Gravy has always been Michael's speciality. His kids loved coming over for visitation because Dad made gravy. I've had his gravy. It's so good I'd have pretended to be a 4th Thompson Child just to sneak into visitation to have his gravy!
But it's so much more fun to give culinary things a fancy French name and gravy falls in the French Mother Sauces category of Béchamel pronounced "besh-uh-mell." Basically a béchamel is a dairy-based sauce thickened with flour and flavored with meat juices, drippings, herbs, etc.
Gravy is all about capturing flavor that would otherwise be left in a pan and washed down the sink. There's a delightful episode where famous French chef Jacques Pépin was cooking fowl on TV with his daughter, Claudine. As he lifted the bird out of the pan, Claudine grabbed the pan and said, "I'll just pour this down the drain" or words to that effect.
You should have seen the look of horror on Jacques Pépin's face. It was a completely real moment. The TV cameras ceased to exist and you could see he was just about to ream her out for pouring all the delicious flavor down the sink. "I'm just kidding," Claudine laughed. Great culinary father/daughter moment! Oh, I wish I could find that clip on YouTube!
In Michael's gravy recipe, all the juices, drippings and "tasty brown bits" left in the pan after roasting a chicken or frying up pork sausage for SOS are heated on top of the stovetop. He then fills a pint canning jar 1/3 with milk. This keeps the 1 - 2 Tablespoons of flour you add to the jar next from sticking to the bottom of the jar. Behold the engineering mind at work. I would've never thought to add the milk first...damn physical world!
The amount of flour is variable as is the amount of milk you add to top off the jar. He stirs it up. I put on a lid and shake it like Carmen Miranda! My grandmother had a special Tupperware jar with fins inside for shaking up milk-and-flour. I've searched for one at thrift stores for years with no luck. Ah, the thrill of the hunt!
The secret to Michael's gravy is time. Lots and lots and lots of time with Michael stirring his simmering gravy constantly with a whisk over a low, low flame. It's like the legendary stocks at those famous Japanese ramen joints. The trick is that the stocks are cooked forever. The longer it cooks, the better it gets. Of course, with gravy there are limits determined by how thick it's getting!
The problem with the whole milk/flour system is, of course, the dreaded lumps. You can beat them out with a whisk or put your gravy through a sieve but it's a pain in the ass.
That's why I use a different process for thickening gravy and mine is fool-proof. You couldn't get a floury lump if you tried. I learned it from my very favorite Michelin-starred celebrity chef, Michel Roux Jr. By some wonderful trick of fate, when I ordered his autobiography A Life In the Kitchen from eBay...it came autographed and is one of my most treasured possessions.
But I digress. I like him because he's a giggler, like me.
Michel Roux Jr taught me something called beurre manié, pronounced "burr mawn-yay." That's just a fancy way of saying "kneaded butter." Take a pat or two of softened butter, a gob of flour and knead it all together until they're completely incorporated. No pockets of dry flour! Add this to your cooking juices and voila! Thickened gravy with zero lumps.
To increase the volume of the gravy and soften the intense flavor of the cooking juices, you can add milk. But why so chintzy? Me...I prefer cream! Cream itself acts like a thickener...so don't walk away! Keep stirring constantly as the cream will thicken your gravy fast. You may not even need the beurre manié at all.
Most important of all, taste, taste, taste. Adjust your seasonings at the end of the cooking process. A little salt? A little pepper? Perhaps a dash of Worcestershire? A soupçon of Grey Poupon. Trust your palate.
That's how we Thompsons make gravy. It's not fancy but it's the best we know how to do and it's pretty darn tasty! That's how we roll in the Shire.
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