Your basic gravy components are fat, flour, liquid, and salt. You can jazz it up by adding herbs and spices and veggies and such and you can skip the fat (and salt) altogether, but let's just start with the fab four.
While I have made many a gravy using liquid fat, traditionally gravy is made using a solid fat. I use a non-hydrogenated margarine ('Pure' -- the sunflower oil one). The flour is usually white overly-processed wheat flour, but I have used whole wheat flour and I've seen gluten-free variations that use stuff like cornstarch, arrowroot, rice flour, and even xanthan gum. The liquid is usually water or stock, but in some instances, I use unsweetened soy milk (more on that variation later). The salt is obviously salt -- I use sea salt. Proportions of the ingredients can vary depending on how rich or runny or thick or salty you want the gravy to be (I like really thick gravy on the salty side).
Another common ingredient is what I will call the browning agent. In the US, this is typically either Kitchen Bouquet (recommended by my maternal grandmother and for the record, this is my preferred browning agent) or Gravy Master (recommended by my sister, who was kind enough to ship a bottle of each to me, since I can't find them here in Scotland) -- these are kind of like a condensed caramalised vegetable stock. (That's the best description I can come up with, okay?) ;p You might consider these 'cheats,' but I like to think of them as adding a little kitsch. I mean, check 'em out:
Other browning agents you can use are Braggs Amino Acids (which I have not tried -- I don't know where to find them around here!!), Marmite, and Soy Sauce. I'm sure there are more examples (please leave any ideas in the comments!), but those are what I came up with off the top of my head. I don't particularly like using soy sauce in gravies (unless it's for an Asian-themed dish) and some people are a little weird about Marmite.
So, if you want to jazz your gravy up a bit more, you can also add herbs (sage and thyme seem to be the more common ones, I've also seen parsley -- more on that later), spices (like freshly ground pepper or a dash of cayenne), vegetables (like onions, shallots, or leeks) and even mushrooms. Mmmmm. Mushrooms. Oh, yes, and dry sherry, dry white wine, dry vermouth, or Shiaoxing rice wine, if you're so inclined -- add these when you add the liquid.
So, here's a little how-to. The gravy in the photos has onions and lemon-thyme:
Melt your margarine in the pan:
Sautee any veggies and toss in any herbs and spices (you may choose to add herbs and spices later, but I don't):
Add flour. Typically, the fat:flour ratio is 1:1, but it can vary, and honestly, I never measure them. If you're not using a wheat flour, your ratio will probably not be 1:1. The photo for this is a little blurry because I was in a hurry -- you don't want the flour to burn. I just toss it in and stir because it mixes up really quickly:
Now add the liquid. I am using a nice stock I made from the tops and tails of these comically tiny carrots we grew in our garden and some chopped carrot that I was boiling for my toddler:
Again, typically, people use about a cup of liquid per 2 tbsp of flour, but I eyeball it. Add the liquid in installments, stirring it in whilst everything blends together nicely -- the flour will thicken and once the gravy starts looking a little too thick, add a bit more liquid.
Add the salt and browning agent -- salt to taste, but for browning agents, I'd suggest 1/4 tsp (just a few drops, really) per cup of liquid.
Hang out, stirring your lovely gravy, letting all your flavours blend together. Have a little taste and adjust your seasonings, if you fancy. Behold, now you have graaavy:
Now, a quick recap and some variations:
Easiest most basic gravy: 2 tbsp margarine, 2 tbsp flour, 1c water or stock, 1/4 tsp browning agent, salt to taste.
- Béchamel sauce: substitute unsweetened soy milk for the water or stock. (Chef Cat Cora made a variation of this with Chinese 5-spice powder on Iron Chef America one time.)
- Southern-style gravy: pretty much the same as béchamel, although it usually has black pepper and a bit more fat.
- Parsley sauce: My mother-in-law made this. It's a béchamel sauce with fresh parsley, but when I asked her what it was like, having never heard of "parsley sauce," she said it was "like cheese sauce only with parsley and not cheese."
- Creamy Leek & Sage: Béchamel with leek and sage. I like this on veggie casseroles.
- Non-fat gravy: Skip the fat, make a paste with flour and a little water, and start with that. (You probably want to skip the onions in this, but if you don't, boil them in a little water until they turn clear and add the onions and the water you boiled then in at the same time you add the liquid.)
- Low-fat mushroom gravy: Fry finely chopped mushrooms (and onions, if you like) in a little oil -- add a splash of water to encourage the mushrooms to release their tasty juices. Once you have a pan full of nice mushroom juice, make a paste with flour and a little water, add that to your pot, and work from there.
Okay, you get the gist -- the variations are endless!!
What are your favourite gravy recipes? What do you like to put gravy on?