There is an art to making good gravy! In my opinion, it is not something you easily learn from a recipe. It is something you almost have to learn standing side-by-side a woman who has mastered the art of making flour and milk taste like heaven!
I remember my very first attempt at making gravy! It came out green...and tasted like flour mixed with milk! I'm sure the green color was from some spice I threw in there trying to mask the "paste taste." Forget it...if you don't get the first few steps right, nothing you add is going to help it!
After 30 years of cooking side-by-side with some of the greatest "southern" cooks, and a lot of trial and error, I have mastered the art of making a very fine gravy.
Now here is the disclaimer...this is NOT for the dieter or anyone who needs to cut down on carbs, salt or "fatty" foods. Because honestly, it has a lot of all three! I am, and will always be, a southern cook. Which means lots of butter, salt, oil and carbs. The trick with all three is moderation. Something that is not easy when sausage gravy and biscuits are on the menu!
While I know it is impossible for you to stand side-by-side with me as I cook up a batch of my famous sausage gravy (known as "Grammy gravy" around here) I will do my best with written words and pictures.
Keep in mind, a great gravy takes a lot of practice. I don't use measuring cups or spoons...it is the ultimate pinch of this and splash of that...but there are some hard rules to cooking good gravy!
In my book, gravy falls into two categories..."broth" based and "oil" based.
For some it is brown gravy and white gravy. I can't think of the last time I made "brown" gravy. What is the difference? Brown gravy basically uses water or broth whereas "white" gravy uses milk. Both have their place in cooking, but southern cooks almost always make "white" gravy...unless they make a standing rib roast...but seriously, who can afford those these days!
Anywho, "oil" and "broth" based gravies are a tad different. With oil, you add the flour directly to the oil in the pan. With "broth" you have to premix the flour with milk prior to adding it to the pan.
Examples of "oil" based....sausage, fried chicken, and fried pork chops drippings...basically anything fried that does not produce a lot of "juices" but leaves "oil" in the pan. Examples of "broth" based would be pretty much anything you "bake" in the oven that produces juices...like baked chicken, turkey or roast. Keep in mind, it still has to have some "oil" or "fat" in the drippings...if it doesn't have a lot, add some!
Today I am going to share some basic rules for "oil" based gravies and my "Grammy gravy." The "hard fast rules" of gravy cooking generally apply to all gravy!
First, fry a pound of sausage in a large skillet. Kind of like how you brown hamburger meat for spaghetti. When it is all brown, add 2-3 tablespoons of plain ole' cooking oil (DO NOT use olive oil!) Brown some more, add a little pepper! Adding the oil is important because you need "oil" to make a good gravy...and no matter what kind of sausage you use (and it really doesn't matter), believe it or not it doesn't produce enough oil!
Hard fast rule #1: always cook gravy on full blast...you want the pan as hot as possible!
After the sausage is well cooked and the sausage/oil mixture is nice and bubbly, add about 2-3 heaping tablespoons of flour.
The "not so great rule of thumb" is equal parts oil to flour. Not in my book...hard fast rule #2: I tend to stick more with a 2:3 ratio. More oil than flour. I want the oil and flour to be bubbly...not pasty and crumbly!!! This is definitely one of those "trial and error" things. Too much flour and the gravy will taste "pasty," not enough and your gravy will be oily! If you add to much flour and the mixture is more "crumbly" than "bubbly", this is the time to add a tad more oil!!!
Hard fast rule #3 ...Brown the flour/sausage/oil mixture to the point of ALMOST burnt.
The only way I know to describe it is to cook it on high (stirring constantly) until it no longer smells like "flour" and smells more "toasty." Right on the verge of burnt but not! It will be dark brown. This is when I add my pepper and salt....not a lot of salt, but be generous with the pepper. Again, trial and error.
Hard fast rule #4...Add a "splash" of milk...maybe 1/2-1 cup. You want to "scald" the first splash of milk and cook it until the entire mixture is "thick and bubbly."
After you have a nice thick, bubbly "paste," start adding a little milk at a time...keeping the entire mixture bubbling! Don't add too much milk all at once and you want it to be a tad thinner than you want the final gravy to be...it is going to cook down and thicken up a bit. Give it a quick taste and add salt and pepper to taste. (Don't even think about adding something else to make it "taste right." It won't and it may end up green!) Reduce heat and let it simmer a tad.
That's it...those are the hard fast rules to making gravy. Major browning and high heat!
The "broth" based gravies follow the same general rules with one big difference.
You don't add the flour directly to the oil and broth mixture. First, heat the pan drippings (oil and broth mixture) until it is rapidly boiling. If the pan drippings don't have a lot of "oil," you might want to add a splash of cooking oil.
Mix the flour with cold milk or broth or water! I usually start with about 1 cup of cold milk and add 2-3 tablespoons of flour...a little salt and pepper....then mix it real well until there are no clumps. Then pour it into the broth/oil mixture! Continue to stir while it rapidly bowls and thickens. Once that thickens and browns you can begin to add your additional milk (or additional broth/water).
Same rules...major browning and high heat. Once the mixture is a tad thinner than you want, reduce the heat and let it simmer!
One last hard fast rule...NEVER add oil or flour AFTER you have added the milk, water, or additional broth. It will not brown or incorporate and you will basically end up with a mixture that taste pretty nasty! Make all your flour and oil adjustments BEFORE adding the milk/water/broth and make sure you give them sufficient time to brown!
There may be some southern ladies out there who will tell you to do one thing or another a tad different...taste their gravy...if you love it, make sure you are front and center every opportunity you get to learn the art!
Because let's face it...nothing saves dry poultry, over cooked roast or lumpy mash potatoes better than a good gravy!