…and every thing else is…

I’ve been stuck. I wanted to continue blogging after returning from our walk in Spain. I’ve sat down several times to do that but each time the only thing that would come to mind was…well, gravy. It may have been that Thanksgiving came soon after we returned from the Camino and my chief role at the family gathering in Colorado was making the gravy. My son, Scott, was roasting the turkey and I volunteered to make the gravy. This was followed shortly thereafter with a dinner I fixed at home with roasted shoulder of lamb with smashed vegetables and greens and a very different, but delicious gravy from Jamie at Home: Cook Your Way to the Good Life by Jamie Oliver. The thing that pushed me over the edge was cooking boeuf bourguignon with a friend for friends using Julia Child’s recipe (Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1 ). That dish is a stew which is basically some meat and vegetables in gravy, but what a gravy!

I’ve always regarded gravy as a liquid comfort food. It has always had an irresistible appeal for me and I would relish even the not-very-good commercial gravy that would be served at roadside cafes. But I experienced gravy enlightenment when I spent at week at Boot Camp at the CIA ( http://www.ciachef.edu/enthusiasts/bootcamps/ ). That’s the Culinary Institute of America, not the other CIA. The gravy that my team was assigned to make and which subsequently became my responsibility was a pan gravy that accompanied roast chicken. It was, well…if we were talking about some event in life we would call it life changing. It was like that only it involved food. I have made it many times since and every time it is all I can do to keep myself from just eating it like soup. Actually, gravy isn’t that much different than soup but it isn’t considered proper in polite company to eat it as such. I suppose it would be even a worse faux pas if I drank it as suggested by Erma Bombeck when she said, “I come from a family where gravy is considered a beverage.”

To make the pan gravy I learned at the CIA you roast your chicken adding mirepoix (chopped onion, carrot and celery) to the roasting pan for about the last 20 minutes of the roast. After the chicken is removed to let it rest you remove all but a little of the fat from the roasting pan. Add flour and cook until it forms a blond roux and smells fragrant. Then add chicken stock, a couple crushed cloves of garlic, some chopped chervil sprigs, a couple bay leaves, a tablespoon of chopped thyme and and a little less chopped rosemary and whisk that mixture until smooth. Simmer the gravy until the consistency you want is achieved. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Strain the gravy through a fine strainer and serve quickly before tempted to keep “tasting” until it’s gone. The details of roasting the chicken and making the gravy are in the book, Culinary Boot Camp: Five Days of Basic Training at The Culinary Institute of America by Martha Rose Shulman. I personally think it is the chervil that makes the difference.

Cooking gravy is a fairly forgiving activity. It is simple. If it is too thin you can cook it down or thicken it more. If it is too thick you can add liquid. Of course you can still mess up making gravy. At another family Thanksgiving the person making the gravy (names will be omitted) was having trouble thickening it. They kept adding more and more flour but the gravy didn’t thicken. Finally it was served thinner than desired. Imagine everyone’s surprise when they tasted the sweetest gravy they had ever had. For the flour was not flour after all, but rather was powdered sugar. Both white powders had been poured from their bags into containers for storage and when reaching for the flour the similar powdered sugar container was grabbed by mistake. That story has been told over the table at our family gatherings relentlessly every time gravy appears at meals ever since.

Gravy can make a dish special by adding a layer of flavor. It can save a dish that is too dry by adding moisture. It can be given a higher status by calling it a sauce. What a truly  versatile substance. And to top it off it tastes so good!

Gravy is fraught with connotations. Being on the gravy train means that you have enough money to live a life of ease. If “everything else is gravy” then you have either gotten through the hardest part of the task and now it gets easier or you have gotten what you expected and the rest is excess. Those sort of sayings probably come from the observation that gravy often makes itself as a by product of roasting. It is almost undeserved.

Now that I’ve finally gotten gravy off my chest (except for the spot on my tie), I hope that I can concentrate on writing about weightier things. It’s as if this topic was causing a kind of writer’s block. Now that I’m past it, well every thing else is…