Let us put by some hour of every day for holy things...

Think on th' eternal home,
The Saviour left for you;
Think on the Lord most holy, come
To dwell with hearts untrue:
So shall ye tread untired His pastoral ways,
And in the darkness sing your carol of high praise.

--from Keble's The Christian Year, Thoughts in Verse



Thursday, November 21, 2013

Gravy Tutorial

Enough procrastination. It's time to show you the basic trick of making gravy, as I promised. 

You don't need to know a lot to make gravy, but you do need to know a couple of basic facts.

First off, it takes ONE TABLESPOON of cornstarch to thicken ONE CUP of liquid. This is as the law of the Medes and the Persians and cannot be altered. At least, not if you want the consistency of gravy instead of a thick goop.

Now frankly I haven't measured anything in the making of gravy or white sauces for years, but this tutorial is assuming you are a novice and so I'm spelling it out with precise amounts. After a bit you won't need to measure, either!

Now another thing is about measuring the cornstarch. Unlike salt or flour, cinnamon, or what-have-you, you don't just dip your spoon into the cornstarch and level it off. No. Not with cornstarch. Cornstarch should be firmly packed into your measuring spoon. (Same with cocoa or brown sugar, by the way.)

Let's look at some photos and I'll talk you through it.

 Okay, here is my one tablespoon (be sure it's a tablespoon, not a teaspoon!) of cornstarch and one cup of water. I've colored the water blue so it shows up better for the demonstration. Pretend the blue water is lovely turkey broth.





I've poured most of the water into a saucepan and set it on high to boil. There's about 1/4 cup left in my measuring cup.

To that, I add the cornstarch, and stir it thoroughly with a fork:



Cornstarch is a unique ingredient; it doesn't dissolve in liquid in the same way as other ingredients. I think the scientific term for it would be a suspension. It separates again quickly so if you mix this up before your panful of liquid is boiling, you'll want to stir it again before adding it. The main thing is to be sure it's all wet and stirred together--don't add it dry to hot liquid. 

[You can also add your cornstarch to plain cool water and then mix it with boiling broth. This is what I usually do. I mix up more than I think I'll actually need and then I can judge/adjust the thickening as I'm stirring it all together in the next step. The main thing is to remember, if you do this, that the proportions don't change--so if you use additional water, you'll want a bit more cornstarch.]

Okay, the water is starting to boil. I have seen cooks not wait for the pot to boil and put their cornstarch in right away. Some of the cans/boxes of cornstarch even recommend this but it's hogwash, in my opinion. All that does is waste your time while you stir and stir and stir and try to keep it from burning while it thickens. Far better to just let the liquid reach boiling before you add your thickener! So,time now for a last quick stir of my cornstarch mixture/suspension, and then...
 ...gradually add the cornstarch mixture to the boiling liquid, stirring constantly with a whisk all the while. In mere seconds, the thickening begins. Keep stirring until the mixture is thoroughly blended, thick, and clear. About 30 seconds should do it!

And that's it! If this were turkey broth or beef broth or lovely ham juices you were boiling, this would be gravy now. As it is, you can pour this stuff down the sink right now, or put it in large flat pan, cool it a bit, and allow your kids to play fingerpaint with it, swirling it around with their fingers into designs. 

You can do this! Practice a bit and you'll have the hang of it. Cornstarch is cheap so you can afford to waste a bit while you gain confidence. When Thanksgiving rolls around next week, you'll be a pro!

One thing you don't want to do is water down your broth too much so it loses its flavor. Sometimes a roast just doesn't yield enough juice to make the amount of gravy one would like, though, so it's a good idea to have some canned broth on hand to add to your pan juices if necessary. A product I especially like is "Better Than Bouillon" which keeps well in the refrigerator and takes up a lot less room than canned broth. I keep both beef and chicken flavors on hand. (I'm less fond of their ham base.) If, when you taste your thickened gravy, it seems to lack flavor, add a bit of this paste-style bouillon base and stir it in well. It'll fix it right up!






Your chances of finding turkey broth canned are not good, but chicken broth added to turkey broth works fine and it's a good back-up to  have around. 

I'm not given to spicing up my gravies with a lot of extra ingredients, but feel free if that's your preference. I like the simple, rich, natural taste of the meat to shine through. That's just me, though. A bit of salt to taste... that's fine.

Next time I'll show you a way to thicken liquids with flour instead of cornstarch. Both methods are handy to know!

 
 

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