Reduction Sauce, Roux, Bechamel, Veloute, Mornay
The word gravy usually refers to the sauce that ramps up the meal in flavor, but few are exacting with its use. In fact, Italian Americans sometimes use the word to describe pasta sauce. I actually looked up the definition of the word “gravy” and found that it really only refers to a sauce made out of a meat’s juices.
So what is it that my mom makes from butter and flour and milk (with bacon fat if she has it)? That would be roux (pronounced roo). This is actually a family joke for us. Wilson & I were only dating when he leaned over my mother’s shoulder in excitement—“I love roux!” he exclaimed. Now, Wilson comes from a multicultural family (French is his mother’s first language). I come from a multicultural family too, if you understand that Southern Ohio and Southern Missouri are completely different cultures. Although the pronunciation of things like “creek” (translation: crik) and “fire” (translation: fawr) vary widely from my family’s diverse cultural backgrounds, there is only one word for that creamy sauce made from bacon fat: gravy.
I most commonly make what is called a “reduction sauce” to get the yummy bits out of the pan. I just pour in some wine, which deglazes the pan beautifully. That means it pulls all of the flavors off of the cast iron and liquefies them. I might add something like onions or mushrooms and then turn the heat down to let it simmer and thicken, scraping the bottom to get the cooked-on tasties.
People complain about how difficult it is to make gravy but it has more to do with texture than academics; no one can give an exact recipe because of the variables of fat or starch used. Use the left over meaty bits in the pan, and add some lard or butter if needed, and deglaze. Turn the heat to medium-low, and slowly add milk while continuously stirring. Mix in some flour (a tablespoon at a time) to thicken but never stop stirring, not for a moment. You can let this simmer as long as you must to get your desired consistency. Some people swear by cornstarch instead of flour, but we do not personally use that; if you are gluten-free, arrowroot or tapioca do the job nicely (rice flour burns too quickly, avoid that). You’ll add salt and pepper to taste, and that is really all there is to it. It’s a matter of 4 additional minutes in the kitchen, tops. It is a great way of scraping the last flavor out of the cast iron skillet. Taste as you go, go slowly, and do not be afraid to experiment.
Similar in purpose, but more versatile and delicious—Béchamel (pronounced bay-shu-mell)—actually serves as its own ingredient within other recipes to bring moisture and depth. It is a French white sauce that is used through most of European cuisine; many Italian, German, and British recipes consider it a necessary staple for things like seafood crepes or meatballs. Although you will see many variations of this “gravy” most will include the secret ingredient that separates it out from other pan sauces…nutmeg.
Recipe for Bechamel Sauce
- ½ stick of butter (4 Tablespoons) or ghee
- 3-4 Tbs home-milled flour
- ¼ cup broth (or substitute with milk)
- 1 cup milk (or substitute with broth)
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Pinch of nutmeg
1) In a saucepan, warm milk on low while you are melting your butter in a separate skillet.
2) Start by melting butter in a medium-low skillet (butter burns quickly). Using ghee instead (my secret, shhh, don’t tell) will enrich the flavor and help prevent burning.
3)Stir 3-4 TBS flour into the melted butter until it’s a thick paste.
4)Then immediately pour ½ cup broth (vegetable or animal, either is good) while stirring.
5) Add about a cup of warmed milk, salt & pepper and –TahDah—a pinch of nutmeg. You can turn this to low, cover, and walk away for 5 minutes at a time until it is your desired thickness (usually about 10 minutes).
Feel free to add your favorite herbs or spices (like fresh rosemary or basil), dry mustard, or other spices. The variations of Bechamel are endless.
Veloute: Veloute is basically a dairy-free Bechamel. Make the standard Bechamel, but substitute more broth for the milk.
Mornay Sauce: Make Bechamel, but add about ½ cup grated cheese (such as fresh parmesan or swiss) at the end, stirring well. This is a wonderful way to make lasagna, casseroles, or a white sauce for pasta. Use this as a substitute for spaghetti sauce if you have to, just be sure to add plenty of garlic!
If you do not like gravy, neither do I. But call it Bechamel, serve it in a crepe or a meatball, and use your best French accent over dinner. It will make all the difference.
À bientôt …or as we say in Southern Ohio, see’ya,
A note: If you are a connoisseur of delicate international cuisine, I am downright offensive in my oversimplications. I know. It’s because I am not afraid to break the rules.
Check out our next blog, which is how to make meatballs with dehydrated spinach and Bechamel Sauce!
Nothing in this blog constitutes medical or legal advice. You should consult your own physician before making any dietary changes. Statements in this blog may or may not be congruent with current USDA or FDA guidance.