Simple Gravy

I make gravy all the time, sometimes with more success than others. This particular attempt turned out quite well, and kept in the fridge for several days, so it seemed right to share it with you-not to mention it only took about 15 minutes, and was very easy to make. Try it on the potato croquettes-so good.

Ingredients

Makes about 1 cup

32 oz. low-sodium chicken broth

1-2 chicken necks Saucy Note: I happened to be smoking two chickens at the same time as this recipe, so the chicken necks were really an effort in not wasting things. One neck will suffice, or use frozen ones that you saved.

1 oz. salted pork belly, cubed Saucy Note: Pork belly is something I always keep on hand, because its cheap, flavorful, and more versatile than bacon. I buy it by the pound, use what I need, and then cube and freeze the rest for future recipes. Throw a cube in simmering soup or use to sauté some vegetables and you’ll soon do the same.

1 bay leaf

¼ cup sherry

1 tbsp. butter

1 tbsp. flour

Instructions 

Set a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add pork belly and cook until the fats start to render. Add chicken necks to fat, skin side down, and sear until deep brown, repeating on each side. Continue stirring the pork belly so it does not burn.

When the chicken is well seared, deglaze the pan with the sherry (please keep hands, face, and any other sensitive exposed bits away from the steam). Add the chicken broth and bay leaf and bring to a low boil-reduce it at this temperature. Remove the bay leaf halfway through the reduction.

While the sauce reduces, make a roux. I know the minute a fancy French food word gets thrown out there half of you start running scared, but stick with me. This is easy, and worth mastering. Just make sure you have a couple minutes to give it undivided attention.

Melt the butter in a small, heavy bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat-I like to use my 1½ quart enameled cast iron for even heat. When the butter is melted, add the flour and begin stirring constantly. The butter will foam initially, and then the two ingredients will begin to form a smooth paste. Continue stirring, being careful not to burn the flour-use your nose and eyes, since smell is one of the easiest ways to judge the character of a roux. Stir slowly but constantly, reducing the heat if the mixture is getting to hot-I usually pick the pot off the stove instead of adjusting the burner, since it gives you quicker, more fluid control. Cook until the mixture takes on a pale golden color and the flour no longer smells raw, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat, continuing to stir for a few seconds before setting aside. I’ve found that you can cheat your way to a darker, richer roux if you leave it in the cooled-but-still-hot pan for a few minutes while the gravy finishes reducing. Just be careful its not too hot to burn when you set it aside.

When the liquid in the pan is reduced to about 1 cup, turn off heat and remove solids. Add roux, stirring gently to incorporate. Serve immediately, or cover and set aside to keep warm. I didn’t need to add salt because of the pork belly, but add salt and pepper to taste if necessary.

Penny’s Pot Roast

The foundation of my cooking abilities is built entirely on a stack of handwritten recipe cards from my mother-in-law. Beyond chicken soup and scrambled eggs, I did not have much experience in the kitchen when I met my husband, but he was a good cheerleader and soldiered through some of the rockier early meals. After we moved into our first house, he mentioned to his mom that I had made a lot of progress, but sometimes felt a little lost when it came to finding new things to make. She mailed me 8 recipes, neatly written on 4×5 cards, and they are the spine of my kitchen repertoire-anytime I need an idea, I flip through them. My absolute favorite recipe is the pot roast, and although I’ve tweaked it slightly over the years, the core of the recipe is still the same. Take your time with this recipe and enjoy the whole experience-you have a perfect excuse to cuddle up and watch a movie or read a book with a glass of wine while you wait for the roast to cook.

Shake Says: This is a definite favorite in our house. As such we pair it with one of our absolute favorite wines. Pearl and Stone Wince Co. is a winery in our town and they make an amazing Bordeaux style red blend called the Wandering. It is a bit of a splurge ($29) but well worth it and we love their wine so much we joined their wine club!

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Ingredients

Equipment: Dutch oven with lid

Chuck roast, 3-5 lbs. (plan for at least ½ lb. per person, and the leftovers are delicious for open face sandwiches if you have extra)

1 onion, diced

4-5 cloves garlic, minced

Carrots, peeled and sliced ¼” thick

Potatoes, cut into chunks about 1”

Whole mushrooms, stems removed (I like baby portabellas or button mushrooms)

1 onion, cut into 1 in. chunks, or 8-12 pearl onions

2 cans cream of mushroom soup (Campbell’s is the classic go-to, but if you shop at a store that sells Kroger products, I absolutely love the Simple Truth Organic brand)

1 can red wine (not actual canned wine, just use the mushroom soup can to measure. This is not inherently obvious to everyone.)

Worcestershire

Soy sauce

Extra red wine or dry sherry for deglazing, about ¼ cup

Salt

Optional: Vegemite

To serve: Crusty bread

Instructions

Preheat oven to 325° F.

Prep all the vegetables. Keep the diced onion and garlic in separate piles from everything else, including each other. Gently wash the mushrooms and remove the stems by gently pulling-they will pop apart easily at the base of the cap in an immensely satisfying way. Peel and slice carrots, and cut potatoes. Peel and cut 2nd onion-if using pearl onions, cut off the base and leave them whole after you peel them. Put carrots, potatoes, mushrooms, and 2nd onion in bowl and set aside.

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Heat a couple tbsp. olive oil over medium high heat in Dutch oven. Rinse chuck roast under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Salt meat sparingly – the soup has salt in it, so you don’t need to add too much extra. Sear in oil until well browned on all sides, about 5 minutes a sides (make sure to get the edges too if you have a thick roast. Use tongs to hold it up if necessary.)

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When meat has a nice sear all around, remove from pan using tongs and place on clean plate.

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Deglaze pan with half the sherry, pouring carefully to avoid steam. Once the sherry boils and steams (it should happen immediately) turn heat down to medium. Scrape up the fond (brown stuff) from the bottom of the pan using a wooden spoon. Once boiling has subsided and most of the liquid is gone, add diced onions and stir to combine with remaining liquid. Brown for several minutes until golden, stirring occasionally.

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While onions are browning, combine soup, wine, soy sauce and Worcestershire in a small bowl. Add a teaspoon of vegemite if desired.

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When onions are golden, turn heat to medium high and add garlic. Stir until garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds, then add remaining sherry and deglaze pan again. Add soup mixture, then return meat to pan. The meat will probably not be completely immersed, but make sure to spoon as much sauce over the top as possible-it clings pretty well since its so thick. Cover Dutch oven and place in oven for 2 hours.

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After two hours, remove roast from oven and add remaining vegetables, stirring gently to incorporate. Make sure to spoon more sauce over the roast, then recover pot and return to oven. Cook for an additional hour.

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10-20 minutes before roast is done, warm bread in oven with roast. If using frozen bread, the lower temperature will require longer cooking time.

Let roast rest for about 5 minutes after removing from oven. Use tongs and wooden spoon or butter knife to divide meat into individual portions and serve in bowl or shallow dish with bread with plenty of sauce.

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Luxury from Economy: Deglazing, Gravies and Reductions

Sauce is my favorite thing to make (I’m sure this surprises you greatly.)  Whether I’m working on the long, slow reduction of demi-glace or a quick, punchy gastrique, I always feel just a little more accomplished when sauce is involved.  I have two staple sauces; both are easy, cheap, and require very few ingredients that are convenient to keep on hand, and they make your food look and taste sophisticated and well composed.  You can also minimize your food waste, especially of protein, if you start saving the scraps and fat that you trim off meat and putting them in the freezer.  I save fatty steak cuts, the slightly strange bits of ham, chicken necks, and anything else that would otherwise be thrown away.  Turn things like that sad, expires-tomorrow pork chop or leftover steak into a gourmet treat instead of chucking it when you inevitably forget about it.

Deglazed Pan Sauce

Deglazing is fun.  First you get to sear or sauté tasty morsels until they are dark and beautiful.  Then you pour in a little liquid and it blossoms into a cloud of steam and smells fabulous and you totally feel like a real chef.  Then you add more liquid so you don’t burn your sauce while having chef fantasies.

Anyway, moving on.  Fun aside, searing and deglazing are critical cooking skills, and it is in your best interests to master them.  Confidence is the essential factor, since there is a lot of heat and noise and smoke, but I believe in you.  Practice making a sauce every time you cook a simple chicken, pork or steak dish, and you’ll be surprised how quickly you improve.  And how often you find people inviting themselves back over for dinner.

The instructions are chicken based, but I’ll list of few of my other favorite combinations at the end.  The method and ratios are essentially the same, except where noted.

Ingredients

Equipment:

Large enameled skillet (preferably with a lid) or Dutch oven.  Nonstick will work if you don’t have anything else, but not as well.  You should probably just listen to me and buy a Dutch oven.

Wooden spoon

Kitchen fan A good sear easily creates enough smoke to set off the fire alarm. Crank it up to high, and crack a window if yours is not stellar.  

At least 1 chicken neck

Saucy Note: Usually a whole chicken will come with the neck inside it, so it’s particularly easy to make sauce if you’re roasting the entire bird. The roasting time is also perfect for a nice rich reduction, so I tend to use less chicken scraps than when I do other proteins.  If you have extra pieces saved or chicken thighs are on special though, I highly recommend making extra meaty chicken gravy at some point.  You can also usually buy bulk chicken necks at the grocery store and freeze them in small bags if you want to have a better supply.

1 shallot or onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, smashed

1 bay leaf

2 cups chicken broth

Saucy Note: Adjust the amount of liquid you’re using based on how long you’ll be reducing it for.  A long reduction calls for more liquid, whereas you can make a quick tasty au jus in about ten minutes with less than a cup.

2-3 second pour white wine or dry sherry Saucy Note: Buy a big bottle if you like our blog!

1-2 tbsp. oil, depending on amount of meat Note: Olive oil is fine, although it tends to be smokier than other oils.  Sesame oil or canola oil is better.

Salt

Optional: butter

Instructions

Heat skillet or Dutch oven over high heat.  Add oil and heat until just starting to smoke.  Quickly and carefully arrange chicken in single layer in the hot pan (very easy if you’re only using the neck.) Set a timer for 4 minutes. Do not touch, turn, flip, poke, or even look at the meat for too long during this time.  With practice you won’t need a timer, but anyone new to this technique should so you can ignore it for the appropriate amount of time without forgetting it.

While chicken is browning, dice onion and smash garlic.  Keep separate.

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When the timer sounds, use tongs to ever so gently pull at a piece of the chicken.  If it releases easily, it’s ready to flip.  If it sticks, give it another thirty seconds.  If it’s still stuck, you might need to turn the heat up.  When the meat releases easily and is dark brown, repeat the process on the parts that now look pale and anemic compared to your beautiful sear.  When chicken is well browned on all sides, use tongs to remove to plate.  Turn off heat and let cool for a moment.

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Make wine and broth easily accessible.  You’ll need to move quickly once the garlic goes in the pan.

If the pan is very greasy, drain or use a paper towel to mop up grease so there is about 2 tbsp. left.  Turn stove back to medium, and add shallot or onion and sauté until lightly brown, turning heat down if bottom of pan starts to get too dark.  When onion is golden, add garlic and turn heat to high, stirring constantly.  As soon as the garlic is fragrant (20-30 seconds), splash in the sherry or wine-you want enough to create a small puddle but not enough that the pieces are swimming.  It will steam and boil immediately, so watch your sensitive bits while continuing to stir with the wooden spoon, scraping the bottom of the pan to get up the fond (the savory, sauce winning brown stuff.  There will not be as much fond with nonstick, which is why it is not as awesome for this)

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After the alcohol has evaporated and the pan is almost dry, pour in the broth, repeating the scraping and stirring, and turn down the heat to simmer.  The liquid should be slowly producing small bubbles.  Add the bay leaf and return chicken pieces to pan, including the juices accumulated on the plate.

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If you have at least an hour until the gravy needs to be ready, cover and let simmer for about thirty minutes.  If you are working with less time, leave uncovered.  The next step can also be moved up 10-15 minutes if trying to reduce faster.

After thirty minutes, turn up heat until liquid is bubbling steadily.  Cook until reduced to desired consistency, and then strain the solids (I recommend a gravy strainer. The top is perforated to allow liquid through, and it has a special spout to separate the grease.)  Sometimes I make it thinner for hot sandwich dipping.  Other times I return it to the pan and reduce it even further until it is very concentrated.  Swirl in a couple tablespoons of butter for a rich gravy, and make sure you serve bread so people can resist drinking straight from the gravy boat.

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Salt to taste.

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Variations 

Seared smoked ham ends, deglazed with bourbon and simmered with beef broth  

Note: As I mentioned earlier, I save the little end pieces and fatty trimmings from pretty much everything.  In the case of ham, its usually already cooked and seasoned, so it imparts more flavor than others. I like it for French dips because it’s a little smoky.

Seared steak trimmings deglazed with red wine and simmered in beef stock 

Beef makes for a very luxurious tasting reduction because it is so rich, especially if you’re using steak trimmings, and can benefit from a splash of vinegar at the end.

Seared steak trimmings and onions deglazed and simmered with beef broth 

Very simple, and if you pick out the beef bits with tongs, the onions make for a heartier texture.

 

Gastrique: The Easiest Fancy Thing Ever

If you’ve never had a gastrique, you are majorly missing out. Sweet, tangy, and full of sass, gastriques are as beautiful as they are delicious.  Made of equal parts liquid sugar (simple syrup, maple, honey, agave…) and vinegar, gastriques are also deceptively easy to make.  Ten minutes of effort,  a little flavoring in the form of fruit, vegetable, wine or herb, and you’ll be sending it home in to-go cups.  Except there won’t be any left because everybody ate it already. The following recipe is my absolute favorite for smoked ham, but it’s also fun to play around with on breakfast foods. Ham and pancake sandwich anyone?

Ingredients

Makes about 1 cup 

Equipment:

Nonstick skillet or sauté pan

Silicone spatula

½ cup maple syrup

½ cup apple cider vinegar

Salt

Splash of red wine

Instructions

Heat maple syrup over medium-high heat for about 5 minutes, swirling pan occasionally so it heats evenly.  Add vinegar all at once, careful not to splash the hot liquid on yourself.  It should boil immediately.  Continue cooking for another few minutes as the syrup and vinegar meld.

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Add the red wine, just enough to give the mixture a brilliant scarlet color, and reduce, stirring occasionally.  The gastrique is done when you can leave a temporary clean streak on the bottom of the pan with your spatula.

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To serve put in gravy boat or spoon over top. Keep in mind this is a strongly flavored sauce.