Christmas basics: the perfect gravy

Justine Costigan
05 December, 2014

We're looking at those staple recipes that can make or break your Christmas spread. And we all know that great gravy is the true heart and soul of a Christmas table.

Gravy isn’t a jus or a reduction. It doesn’t require hours of work or chef-level skills. It isn't usually elegant or refined, but it can be sublime.

Born out of practicality and thrift, gravy is the cook’s way of putting the delicious juices and fat from roasted meat to good use. Cooked with flour, a little fat and the roasting liquids, gravy makes a roast dinner.

While some dishes will always be in the domain of restaurant chefs, gravy belongs at home. “When it comes to real comfort food,” writes Adrian Richardson in Meat, “you can keep your fancy jus and your restaurant-inspired reductions: nothing beats Nanna’s gravy.” (Check out his Nanna's foolproof method below.)

Getting rid of gravy lumps

Gravy is deceptively simple to make but not always easy to master. If it was, there wouldn’t be so many tips and tricks for making gravy work. Lumpy gravy is easily fixed: pour it through a strainer or blend using a stick mixer – but its better to avoid lumps by slowly cooking the flour in the fat before adding any liquid. Raw flour will clump and make your gravy taste horrible. Continuous whisking will also give you a smooth result. Scrapings from the bottom of the tin might add lumps too, but keep these in if you don't mind a rustic look, they’re delicious.

Billy Law's Perfect Sunday roast with gravy and trimmings

Giving your gravy a little extra oomph

Well seasoned and well-cooked meat should result in a richly flavoured gravy but sometimes gravy needs a little helping hand. A rich stock or a little extra salt adds flavour but plenty of people swear by a dab of vegemite or a splash of soy sauce. In Have You Eaten, Billy Law adds thinly sliced preserved lemon to a gravy for a slow-roasted shoulder of lamb with rosemary. Michele Curtis prefers tomato paste and wine in her best-ever gravy from What’s for dinner?. And if you look to popular culture for recipe inspiration, songwriter Paul Kelly suggests, “just add flour, salt, a little red wine and don't forget a dollop of tomato sauce for sweetness and that extra tang.”

Gravy should always be hot and there should be plenty of it. You need it for smushing up with roast potatoes and creating a puddle of juice around your meat. And if you ever have any left over and don't have a use for it, give it to your dog, it will be the best Christmas present ever.

Adrian Richardson's method for foolproof gravy (just like Nanna used to make)

Much of the flavour for Nanna’s gravy comes for free, from all the stuff that’s left in the bottom of the roasting tin. The body of the gravy comes from flour, or from squishing some of the vegies through a sieve – and damn it all, sometimes from both! The best thing about Nanna’s gravy is that you can knock it up pretty easily while your roast is resting in a warm place. Here’s how it’s done.

First, pour away most of the fat from your roasting tin, leaving just a little in the bottom of the tin with the roasting juices. If you’re going with a flour-thickened version, sprinkle in a generous teaspoon of flour, and stir over a medium heat to make a gunky brown paste. Alternatively, chuck in a cup of mixed diced vegies – carrot, celery, onion and garlic – and stir well.

Whichever method you’re using, at this point you need to put the roasting tin back into a very hot oven for about 10 minutes, until the paste darkens, or the vegies colour.

Next, return the tin to the stovetop and slosh in a cup of wine, stock or water. With a wooden spoon, stir everything about vigorously, reaching right into the corners and making sure you scrape up all the crisp bits of goodness that are stuck to the bottom of the tin. Cook over a medium heat, stirring continuously, until the mixture thickens.

Add more stock, or the cooking water from your vegies, until the gravy reaches a consistency you like. You do need to let it bubble away for a good 5 minutes or so – especially if you’re using flour. And don’t forget to taste the gravy to see whether it needs a bit more wine, a pinch of salt or pepper, or even a touch of mustard or a spoonful of redcurrant jelly (this is especially good with roast lamb).

When you’re happy with your gravy you can pour it through a fine sieve, using your wooden spoon to squish through as many of the vegetables as you can. Alternatively, for an authentic ‘nanna’ touch, don’t strain your gravy at all – a few chunky bits won’t worry anyone, and they’ll taste delicious.

Find Adrian Richardson's book Meat, as well as plenty of other great titles for Christmas roast inspiration, in our bookstore – all at 30% off for members.

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