THE first proper kitchen I worked in was at a restaurant in Marlow, a market town on the Thames. The chef had trained with George Perry Smith at The Hole in the Wall in Bath, in those days a shining light in the gloom of British food and it was here that I learnt the wonderful basics of French cookery, including sauces.
As we're coming up to Christmas I thought I would write about that most essential sauce and unifying unguent of the Christmas dinner – gravy.
Expectations are high at Christmas; with children expecting presents and adults anticipating a spectacular meal, it puts a certain stress on the cook. Making good gravy can play a part in the pressure.
I am sharing this way of making gravy now so that you have time for a practice run before the Day – the method is the same whether you are cooking a joint or a bird.
When your bird is cooked put it on a pre-heated hot plate and leave it in a warm place to 'sit' for 15 minutes – it will have plenty of heat so you don't need to worry about it getting cold.
Now assess your roasting tin, this is where the magic is. You will have a delicious looking dark brown liquid in the bottom with dark brown little bits around the sides and corners – all important! This will be covered with melted fat. If you tilt the pan gently allowing the juices to flow into one corner of your tray you will be able to get a good idea of how much fat is there. You need some of this, two or three heaped tablespoons but not more. Skim off any excess into a bowl using a thin-lipped spoon.
Place your roasting tin over a low heat and hold it firm with an oven gloved hand. With the other hand use a wooden spoon draw together all the bits in the tin. Then add two round tablespoons of flour, plain or self raising – the fat will be absorbed into this quickly. Turn up the heat a little and mix together the flour and the fat. You are essentially cooking the flour here, this is the basic sauce procedure you would use to make a white sauce.
Let this brown as you stir but do not on any account let it burn. Stir all round the tin drawing in all the bits and mixing well. Do this for about five minutes and then start adding your liquid, stirring all the time and not worrying about any small lumps you may have.
A word about your liquid – in an ideal world you will have made stock from the giblets (simmered them with an onion, carrot, parsley, thyme and bay leaf, couple of peppercorns and a stick of celery for an hour or two). Next best will be a stock cube mixed with water from any vegetables, but if none of these are on hand hot water will do with maybe a bit of Marmite dissolved in it.
Whatever your liquid add it slowly stirring all the while and drawing in from the corners all the time. You will gradually see your gravy taking shape.
When you have added about a pint of stock – stop and have a taste. At this point add salt and pepper if necessary – (remember you will have probably seasoned the bird before putting it in the oven). Other popular additions would be wine, port or sherry, balsamic vinegar, or Worcester sauce – add carefully in small amounts and taste as you go.
Finally, warm your gravy jug while recalling the immortal words of Tony Hancock: "I thought my mother was a bad cook but at least her gravy moved!"
Next month – stuffing!
Leakers Bakery is the sponsor of the Taste of Dorset Best Restaurant Award