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Gravy: The Fifth Southern Food Group

September 29, 2008 - Eric Paddock
It can be argued effectively that while the rest of the world considers gravy a sort of condiment, most southern cuisine is designed AROUND gravy.

A good southern cook can make gravy out of any meat, from pork to beef, from chicken to turkey, from ham to sausage. It is as much a breakfast item as it is a lunc or dinner staple. It is, in fact, the fifth food group for those who talk with a twang.

I once observed a gentleman from south of the Mason-Dixon Line who sat down at a table whose setting didn’t include a gravy boat. For a full ten minutes into the meal, he scanned the table feverishly in search of heavy sauce. The thought of gravy-less victuals delivered a look of panic on his face.

While he finally succumbed to his fate, it was clear that his evening was ruined and he would never again venture north of 39 degress, 43 minutes, much less eat there.

The most iconic of southern edibles — grits — were invented simply as a vehicle for gravy. And while a southerner may argue the point, without gravy or butter, grits are about as tasty as wallpaper paste. Ladle on some chicken gravy, however, and ground hominy takes on a whole new meaning.

There is absolutely no reason, save perhaps laziness, to buy gravy that comes powdered or in a jar.

If you have cooked some meat, either fried or roasted, you have the basis for a great gravy and a gall bladder seizure.

Let’s start with fried chicken, assuming that you have just turned a cut-up chicken into golden-brown pieces of heaven. Take the chicken out of the pan (you’re using a big, iron skillet, of course) and drain off the excess fat and oil. The flotsam that’s left is the stuff of great gravy.

Crank up the heat to medium high and toss in about a cup of water and a couple chicken bouillon cubes or a cup of chicken broth. When the liquid begins to boil, loosen the goodies left over from the chicken to circulate. You will, of course, have fried the liver and the gizzard, which you have diced up and returned to the skillet. Next, mix about a third of a cup of flour with an equal amount of milk (half and half if you have it) and slowly add it to the skillet while constantly stirring. I use a whisk.

If things get too thick too quickly, just add a little water. Simmer it for 10 or 15 minutes to let the flour cook and stop tasting like flour. Don’t salt it until you taste it, but some fresh ground pepper is a must.

Some people start with a roux, a sort of paste made from flour and butter and browned in the pan before the liquids are added. That works fine, too. I just have a habit of overcooking them.

The same techniques work for just about any meat, just change the broth to match. Of course, you can’t buy sausage broth, so you have to rely on the sausage. Hence the abundance of crumbled sausage in sausage gravy.

Next time: Iron — it’s good for you and cooks well, too.


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