Gravy Confidential Transcript

4 Million Years BC - Thursday

GUEST: Caveman

    In the beginning, cuisine is, well, experiment.

CAVEMAN: [caveman picks up some kind of plant from the water and tastes] Blah, bluh, blah. [begins walking, spots a deer, picks up a rock]

    As for sauce there is but one.

CM: [chunks the rock at the deer (it's fake) and it falls over] WAAAHHHH!

    And it comes conveniently packaged inside whatever unfortunate beast happens onto the menu.


GUEST: Buffet Maximus

    Ancient Rome. Pungent sauces mask the flavor and aroma of foods considerably past their prime.



GUEST: French Chef   

    1533. Catherine DiMedici moves from Florence to Paris taking along the newly invented fork and a battalion of cooks who soon teach sauces to French cooks who eventually dominate the world with their labyrinthine system of sauces.

FRENCH CHEF: ... Espagnole, Hollandaise, Béchamel, Bordelaise, Béarnaise ...

Espagnole           Mornay
Velouete*         Newburg
Hollandaise    Perigueux*
Bechamel*   Beurre Blanc
Beurre Rouge      Soubise


Somewhere in England

GUEST: Englishman

    Meanwhile, while in England, a Chinese fish sauce finds a new home.

ENGLISHMAN: Ummm. Crakin' good sauce. We'll call it ... hmm ... ketchup. Whaa ha ha ha ha ha.

Downtown Plymouth - Noon

GUEST: Indian & Pilgrim

    As for the colonies the first Thanksgiving turns ugly.

  INDIAN: Tatanka.

    Who can blame us for being a little sauce leery?   After all who hasn't suffered at the hands of a broken Hollandaise or an insipid marinara?  Join us as we peer into the inner workings of the sauce that American cooks love to hate, gravy.

 I: Tatanka.
P: Lumpy?
 I: Lumpy?
P: Keep working on it.

    Don't worry about recipes. The right pan, a stout whisk and some honest science are going to set you free. So grab hold of your gravy boat, kids. This is going to be some good eats.

 I: Lumpy.
P: Tatanka.

Pool filled with Plastic Easter Eggs

    Clouds, lava lamps, gravy, fingernail polish, paint, library paste, mayonnaise: all members of a group that science types like to call colloids. Now a colloid is basically any liquid or gas that has another substance dispersed throughout it in particle form. Now believe it or not, most successfully thickened sauces are indeed colloids. Some, like say mayonnaise, are actually thickened by tiny little globules of fat while others depend on nothing more than pulverized vegetable matter.

    But in the majority of sauces the role of particle is played perfectly by starch granules. And if there is any mystery to sauce makingand, well, a lot of cooks would say there iswell then starch is the prime suspect.

Starch Granules

Kroger - 9:30 am

GUEST: Shirley O'Corriher [sic], Food Scientist

    Now there are a lot of starches to choose from:  a dozen or so flours, there's corn starch, potato starch, rice starch, instant starch. You know, what I need is a good food scientist.

Corn Starch
Potato Starch
Rice Starch
Instant Starch

AB: You wouldn't happen to be a food scientist would you?
SC: Certainly am.
AB: Well, would you help us to find a nice sauce friendly starch?
SC: Yes. What you probably don't want are the root starches. They're crystal-clear hot or cold, they freeze beautifully, but they're clear. So, you're going to have a clear sauce or gravy.
AB: Would you eat a see-through gravy?
SC: No. No.

AB: Okay, so that rules out potato starch, arrow root and tapioca. Now at most grocery stores that leaves, what?  Flour and corn starch, right?

Potato Starch
Arrow Root

SC: Yeah. And flour, plain old wheat starch, is fine. They make specialty starches just for thickening sauce and gravy but you can just use the flour you've got on your shelf. Pick the lowest protein flour you've got there and go with it.
AB: Low protein. How come?
SC: Because the protein in flour, see it's got starch and protein, the protein cooks and floats to the top. You can skim it off if it's objectionable.
AB: Okay. So a soft, southern or all-purpose flour would be best?
SC: That would be ideal.
AB: Well thanks. Do you have a favorite sauce?
SC: My mamma's good old milk gravy with fried chicken is out of this world.
AB: She was a good mamma.

    So, why do starches make great thickeners?  Well, when individual starch granules rub up next to hot liquids they kind of burst releasing all these long chains of glucose which is a basic sugar. Now if there's enough of these, they tangle up and trap passing liquids and thicken the sauce.
    Now, since all-purpose flour is the kitchen standard in this country that's what I'm going to use today for sauces. But if you've got pastry or cake flour use it.

Low protein flours like cake flour are referred to as "soft".

The Kitchen

GUEST: Gravy Maker #1 and #2

    Okay, so theoretically at least gravy is really not much more than starch and a hot liquid, right?  Well, let's make some gravy then because we've got starch, all-purpose flour, and a hot liquid, boiling water. So, gravy, right?   [whistles]  Making gravy. Going to be smooth and tasty. Going to be ... uh oh. That's not gravy. That's lump city. Birthplace of the gravy blues.
    Here's what happened. See, when that big old wad of flour hit the water the outside bits gelatinized immediately forming an impenetrable but incredibly gooey outer coat. So when we cut into it, you see that nothing but dry on the inside. That's nasty. So what we need is a method to get the flour or whatever starch we're using into the liquid but still keeping all of those little grains separate from each other. And there's a few different ways of doing it.

    Some gravy makers favor a slurry, a combination of flour and a cold liquid, wine, water or stock, that's shaken together then whisked into the base liquid. Then the liquid is brought just up to a simmer to thicken.



    Others knead equal parts of softened butter and flour together into a paste called a beurre manié. This is then whisked into the base liquid and stirred over low heat until thickened.

Beurre Manié

    Now both these methods will indeed thicken a gravy but the problem is it will take about an hour of constant simmering to cook the raw floury taste out of these sauces. Now during that time the liquid that evaporates has to be replaced and even then these sauces just aren't stable.

    AB: Ooo, bummer.
GM#1: [shakes head]

    If, however, you were to take equal parts by weight of fat and flour and cook them together before introducing the liquid you'd have a roux and that, excuse the expression, would be a good thing. But first, as always, the right tools.

Flour + Fat = Roux

The English have 42 religions, but only 2 sauces. -Voltaire

Bed, Bath & Beyond - 4:18 pm

GUEST: "W", Equipment Specialist

    If you buy smart there's no reason you can't live a long, happy kitchen life with a limited culinary arsenal. The trick is to have expert advice. [looks inside of a pot]

 W: Don't touch that!
AB: Hello, W.
 W: What you need is a saucier [pron: saw-see-AY].
AB: A saucier. I'm all ears.
 W: Our newest model: heavy gauge stainless steel with a layer of aluminum sandwiched throughout.
AB: Impressive.
 W: Whisk and spoon friendly profile, oven safe handle. Perfect for gravies, emulsions and reductions.
AB: Well, it's nice but I don't see what wrong with my old pan ...
 W: Right. Now do pay attention AB.
AB: Yes, ma'am.
 W: Straight sided sauce pans are fine for a lot of things just not sauce making. The tight corners and high sides make stirring and whisking iffy at best.
AB: Iffy.
 W: Whereas the sloped sides of the saucier allows for easy whisk access ...
AB: Hmm.
 W: ... and the wide profile encourages reduction through evaporation.
AB: Hm.
 W: The bowl shape allows smaller amounts of liquid to pool imitating a range of pan sizes.
AB: Imitating pan sizes.
 W: Give me your whisk.
AB: My whisk. Oh. [pulls whisk out of pocket and hands it to W]
 W: Not for gravies. [throws it aside] The more tines in the sauce will result in better starch-liquid integration and a smoother sauce. Now get to cooking, will you?
AB: Right.

The Kitchen

[Alton is reading,
The Joy of Cooking"
1962, by Irma Von Starkloff Rombauer
& Marion Rombauer Becker

    Now I hate to be legalistic, but the 1962 edition of The Joy of Cooking is quite clear: "a gravy without meat drippings is nothing more than a sauce." Well luckily we are to be rescued from culinary hair-splitting by this miraculously appearing pork roast. Now, all we have to do to start turning that, well, admittedly unattractive pool of goo there into a lovely gravy is take the roast off to rest for awhile. Then we're going to de-fat this pan. Just taking off all the fat that we can saving it, though, for the roux.
    Then we're going to place the pan over high heat and then add a cup, maybe two, of red wine and just bring it to a boil scraping all those little brown bits until they dissolve. Then we're going to strain that off into a medium sauce pan and add about two, two and a half, cups of canned stock or broth, the low sodium variety, two bay leaves, five or six peppercorns. And we're just going to let that reduce over medium heat for about five to seven minutes until it's down to only two and a quarters to two and a half cups of liquid. Now, the pot thickens.
    Now one of the nice things about rouxes is that they don't have a conscience. They don't care what liquid they thicken, they don't care where it came from. But they do care how much of it there is. Now I'm not much for measuring. I don't like getting in all those little spoons. I lose count. So I think I've got a good rule of thumb based on an equal amount of ratios. One-One-One. And it's all about weight.

    The way I see it is that one cup of liquid can be thickened by one ounce of flour as long as it's with one ounce of butter and that's by weight. Now since I plan on making two cups of gravy here we're going to be talking about two ounces of flour and two ounces of butter, again, by weight.

1 cup liquid
1 oz flour
1 oz fat

    So, we get the gravy train started here by firing up our shiny, new saucier over medium heat. Now we want to go ahead and get the butter melted all the way because we want to completely coat all the grains of flour with the fat. So, get that melted.
    Now when we do add the flour we want to do it all at once and you want to have a whisk in your hand before you do it because otherwise we're going to get lumps in the roux. And if you get lumps in the roux, unfortunately, you're going to get lumps in your gravy.
    So the butter is melted now. It's starting to foam out which is about where we want it. And go ahead and add the flour all at once. And whisk. This is the hardest work you'll do on this dish I promise. Now I'm already really liking this saucier. You can see I can get the whisk all the way down into the corners. That's really nice.
    Now after about a minute, maybe two minutes of stirring depending on your butter, you're going to notice a change. The roux is all of sudden is going to get thinner and it's going to kind of get very liquidous for a moment. And that's good because what it means is that you can turn down the heat a little bit and you can stop stirring so hard.
    Now we've reached the point where the roux is actually going to cook the flour. This is where rouxes are so much better as thickeners than any of the other thickening methods. You see, with a slurry or even a beurre manié, you've got to cook the gravy for a long time to get that kind of raw, cereal flavor out of your mouth. Rouxes are already cooked so you don't have any of that flavor going in.
    Now after about five minutes you're going to have what's called a white roux. And it's the strongest of the rouxes. It will thicken more liquid with a smaller amount than any other roux. But there are other degrees of roux and they are extremely useful in the kitchen.
    Rouxes can be cooked to varying degrees of darkness. From light to blonde to brick. Having attained seventh level roux master status, some Cajun cooks can actually differentiate between a dozen different degrees of darkness. Now the darker a roux gets the more color and flavor it will bring to a sauce or gravy. But the darker a roux is, the less thickening power it has. A brick roux, for instance, only has about a quarter of the thickening capacity of a light roux. Now it takes a long, long cooking time to get from this level of roux [white] to this level of roux [brick]. So if you want to try your hand at darker rouxes, you might think about cooking them in the oven, uncovered at 350 degrees. Just give them an occasional stir. But it's going to take at least an hour to get from here [white roux] to there [brick roux].

1 oz. of white roux has the thickening power of 4 oz. of brick roux.

    Well, we've reached one of the great axioms of gravy making. The roux and the liquid to be thickened should be at opposing temperatures without either being ice cold.

Roux & Iiquid at opposing temperatures

    Now our white roux has cooled down to almost room temperature. But the deglazing liquids we've been reducing is at a full simmer so we're about ready to go. We're going to whisk in about half a cup of the liquid into the roux and work it into a paste. This is really important. It's going to help to separate the flour grains even more and keep the gravy smooth.

    Now the roux goes back onto high heat along with all but a quarter cup of the liquid. Again, better to end up with a gravy that needs thinning than a thin gravy that needs thickening. We're going to call that the third axiom.

Better to thin a thick gravy than to thicken a thin one.

    Now one of the great things about flour as opposed to, say, corn starch as a thickener is that flour starts to work thickening well below the simmering point, around 150 degrees. If you keep stirring, by the time you see bubbles break the surface you'll be fully thickened. Now the first few times you make gravy you're going to be surprised how sudden this happens.
    You can serve it as soon as you like the texture but if you keep it over very low simmer for half an hour to an hour, the sauce will be come much smoother. Proteins and fats from the flour and butter will eventually work up to the surface where you can skim them off easily. So if you have time take the time. The sauce will thank you.

    Now a healthy gravy should hold on to food without weighing it down. And this looks perfect ... at the moment. Trouble is, by the time I get this in the gravy boat, down the hall, into the dining room and sit down, this gravy will have cooled down by several degrees and sauces thickened by flour thicken more as they cool. That's axiom number four. And we've all seen it at Thanksgiving, right. By the time you get the plates back to the kitchen the kids are kicking the gravy around the living room.

Starch sauces
thicken as they cool.

    So thin it out, just a little bit, to make up for the inevitable tightening. And now is the last time you'll have to give it a final taste. Mm. Tastes good to me.
    Now my last gravy note is about presentation. I'll admit I'm not one for garnish but after all this work you really shouldn't serve this up in an empty mayonnaise jar. So get yourself a gravy boat. I mean ask your grandmother for one. She's probably got one she'd be happy to give you. Cause when it comes to some things details matter most.

According to the government, packaged gravies
must contain 25% meat stock or broth.

Silver Skillet - 7:00 am


    You know it was in roadside diners just like this that the word 'gravy' became synonymous with easily or ill gotten gains. What manner of sauce could possibly inspire such a universal colloquialism?  Milk gravy, my friend. Or as it's called in the South, Saw Mill Gravy. Here's how.

    For two cups of saw mill gravy start by frying up something like country steak, chicken, or a batch of breakfast sausage. If you've got more than about two tablespoons of fat left in the pan pour it off. This is about right. Whatever you do don't lose any of those little brown bits and pieces in the bottom of the pan otherwise known as The Good Stuff.

2 Tbsp Fat

    Put the pan back over medium high heat and then sprinkle over about a quarter cup of flour, about four tablespoons. Then whisk or stir with vigor for a good thirty seconds scraping around all those little brown bits because that is where the flavor is. We're going to let this cook for about another two minutes just to get rid of that floury, raw cereal taste.

1/4 Cup Flour

    Three minutes later we've got a nice, kind of nutty aroma. So I'm going to take it off the heat and I'm going to switch over to a whisk. And I'm going to add slowly in installments about two cups of milk. Just going to work each little installment in. Don't worry about the bubbling. It's going to get real thick and ugly. But that's okay. That's about a half a cup worked in. Just try to get up in all those corners. You could do this with a spoon. I just like the whisk. Okay, that's about two cups.

2 Cups Milk

    And to go back over high heat. We want to get this up to a simmer as soon as we can because there's, hey, no reason to wait.
    Once you've got it all worked in if you want, you can go back to the spoon so you don't scrape up your pan. I'm kind of partial to this pan, so I'm just going to stir it. And as soon as it comes up to a simmer it will be as thick as it's gonna be. Now saw mill gravy is not supposed to be a gloppy, heavy sauce. And since it's going to be worked in with all this crumbled sausage we're going to use we just want a nice kind of velvety consistency. And believe it or not, even with a rustic dish like this you can get that consistency.
    Now you can see the gravy is just coming up to a simmer and it's thickening nicely. I don't want it to be super thick. I just want it to be kind of enough to coat. You can see that I've held back a little bit of that milk. That's because, as always, a thick gravy is a lot easier to thin than the other way around. From the looks of this, I think I'm going to leave it out.
    I'm just going to give it a taste. No double dipping. There was plenty of salt in the sausage. There was some red pepper in the sausage so actually this is seasoned really nice. Since we've come to a simmer that's as thick as it's going to get, of course, until it cools down. So serve it a little bit thin and you'll be rewarded with perfect consistency.
    Now, serve immediately over toast with, say, the aforementioned sausage now crumbled. And behold, a meal to break a trucker's heart. Now this would have been even better over freshly baked biscuits. But, that's another show.

Gravy Train: A job providing maximum return for minimum effort

The Kitchen

    When made with a butter roux, this gravy is the sauce the French call béchamel. [pron: bay-shuh-MEL] In the sauce world, béchamel basically translates to 'plastic' because it can be turned into so many different things.

Milk Gravy = Béchamel

    I mean, add shredded onions or shallots and you've got soubise [pron: saw-sue-BEES] which is great on just about anything.

  + Onion     
  = Soubise

    Add a pinch of cayenne, some shredded gruyere, and parmesan and you've got sauce mornay [pron: more-NAY] ready and willing to pour itself over vegetable, eggs or fish.

  + Parmesan 
  = Mornay

    Trade the fancy cheese for good old American cheddar and you've got, you've guessed it, cheddar sauce. Mix this with cooked macaroni, bake it at 350 degrees for 15 or 20 minutes and you've got a smooth macaroni and cheese*** that will not split on you.

  + Cheddar        
  = Cheddar Sauce***

    And then last, add the crumbled sausage to the béchamel and we're back where we began, saw mill gravy. It may not look very fancy or sound very fancy but it is definitely good eats. As you can see, béchamel is the mother of many sauces.

Béchamel is one of the 5 "Mother" sauces of French Cuisine**

The Kitchen

    Knowing how to make simple gravies and sauces is kind of like finding the perfect little black dress or navy blazer. It changes the whole look of your wardrobe. Now as soon as you are comfortable with the whole roux-liquid equation the world is your saucepan. I mean, béchamel makes the perfect casserole binder. Canned tomatoes thickened with a little roux on biscuits, it's dinner in my book. And that American gothic classic red-eye gravy is little more than ham drippings, flour and coffee. It's down home eating even a beatnik could love.

    The point is you don't have to have fancy French recipes to make sauce. You don't have to wait for Thanksgiving to make gravy. And hopefully you can't wait for the next episode of Good Eats.

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*The French spelling for these sauces are Velouté, Périgueux and Béchamel.

**"It was the 19th-century French chef Antonin Carême who evolved an intricate methodology by which hundreds of sauces were classified under one of five "mother sauces."  Those are: espagnole (brown stock-based), velouté (light stock-based), béchamel (basic white sauce), hollandaise and mayonnaise (emulsified sauces) and vinaigrette (oil-and-vinegar combinations).", Encyclopedia section, sauce.

***"To make a truly righteous mac & cheese, you'll need a lot more cheese and you'll need extra sharp cheddar to cut through all the starchiness. I usually wake mine up with some hot sauce as well. And don't worry, that sauce can take just about all the cheese you can throw at it without breaking."
(AB, FN Forum, Post 42.2)

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010