Posted by Cassondra Murray Dec 18 2015, 12:10 am in Cassondra Murray, Cassondra's blogs, Food Fight, gravy, holiday, holiday meals, Jeanne Adams, southern cooking
Have you ever been faced with an unexpected challenge where you’ve gone “Oh sh** can I pull this off?”
That happened to me this Thanksgiving.
We were lucky enough to get asked to Thanksgiving dinner this year at the home of two dear friends. The couple was newly married, and a group of us descended on their house as the final meal preparations were in full swing.
It was a pitch-in dinner, so we had a bit of everything. But the main entre’ was oven-roasted turkey. And contrary to Duchesse Jeanne’s ideology, if you’re having turkey, you must have mashed potatoes and gravy. But that’s a whole nuther story.
Jeanne: Yes! To the mashed potatoes. A resounding NO WAY to the gravy. Nope. Slimy madness, I tell you. What is this passion people have for pouring fowl grease over everything on their plates??
Cassondra: Excuse me…it’s about…you know…taste….flavor. And I was trying to tell a story here.
Jeanne: *looking abashed* Oh. Sorry. Pray, continue!
Cassondra: Alrighty then. The cook of this couple is a young man who took on the challenge of a big group for Thanksgiving, and he handled it perfectly. In the final few minutes, with the stand mixer whirring the mashed potatoes into creamy goodness, he pulled the perfectly browned, perfectly moist turkey out of the oven with a flourish, transferred it to a platter to be carved, turned back to the roasting pan and…hesitated.
I was helping wash up the prep dishes because pitch-in dinners are just that way—I can’t sit around and not help if there’s stuff to be done—when I caught the slight panic in his eyes. His gaze landed on me and he said, “Cassondra, can you make the gravy?”
“Absolutely!” I forced confidence into my voice.
Truth? I’ve made gravy a bunch. And I’ve failed a bunch.
Jeanne: *whispers* That’s because good gravy is hard, and bad gravy is awful! I can make good gravy, but why?
Cassondra: *glares* For you who aren’t aware, gravy is one of the pinnacle dishes for the successful southern woman who plans to call herself a cook, because no holiday meal is complete, whether it’s ham or turkey, without a side of mashed potatoes made into a perfect pond, filled with yummy, slurpalicious gravy.
Cassondra: *squints at Jeanne* Whether it’s white gravy (we call that breakfast gravy around these parts) or brown gravy (that’s dinner gravy), bottom line, it’s the nectar of the gods.
Jeanne: *harrumphs* No matter what you call it, its as nutty as yesterday’s fudge to drown perfectly magnificent biscuits in white gravy, and equally superb potatoes in brown gravy. But you have to finish the story. What did you do?
Cassondra: *rolls eye* In a minute. Breakfast gravy is not just for biscuits. I don’t eat it that way, though I have complete respect for a good plate of hot homemade biscuits smothered in freshly made white gravy.
Anyway…Breakfast gravy, for some of us, is to hide the eggs, so we can get our protein without actually…you know…tasting the bird embryos.
Jeanne: Snork! Loooooove me some bird embryos.
Cassondra: *wrinkles nose* I want so much to like them, but I don’t really. The gravy smooths the way. *glances at Jeanne’s “ain’t givin’ in” look* I see we have another food fight brewing here, don’t we?
Jeanne: *looks smug* Well, it IS our little Evil Twin, holiday tradition!
Cassondra: Okay fine. Let’s just stop right here and settle this.
Jeanne: Pistols at dawn? *grins*
Cassondra: No. Mashed potatoes at dinner. *taps foot a few times, contemplating* How can this be? You grew up in the south. I mean, surely your mama made gravy. How can you not like it? What’s not to like about gravy?
Jeanne: I’m totally down with mashed potatoes. LOVE them. Any kind of potato – Irish, Yukon, Sweet, red-skinned – can be mashed in my presence and I will rejoice and sit down to eat. It’s the drowning in grease that I loathe.
Jeanne: *holds up hand, stopping the interruption* Gravy is just….what was it you said yesterday? Ah, yes, *clears throat to produce the perfect sound* “EWWWWW!” It’s neither liquid nor solid – a perpetual confusion of form – and it’s frequently too salty and lumpy to be borne. Mostly, however, it’s the texture for me. I’m pretty much okay with the salt part, but it’s just…slimy. Sorry can’t come up with a better word.
Cassondra: *squares shoulders, shakes finger back and forth* It’s neither liquid nor solid because it’s sauce. You know…..that stuff that elevates good food to excellent? Good gravy is sauce, and is neither greasy nor slimy. That’s bad gravy. Explain.
Jeanne: In a minute. Not only is it greasy AND slimy, people really do put it on everything on their plates. Seriously! You know that, right? OMGosh. They drown the dressing, the turkey, the potatoes, the casseroles (whatever those may be) and suddenly their plates look like a lake with protruding boulders of meat and veg. Bleech.
Cassondra: *considers* Casseroles are a whole nuther argument. Okay I’ll give you that a sea of gravy with protruding food lumps is gross. But that’s not the gravy’s fault. That’s the error of the user. Blaming the gravy for that mess is like blaming the pencil for accounting errors! It’s like blaming the spoon when you gain weight!
Jeanne: *ignoring all this* It’s not just the lumps on the plate. The lumps in the gravy itself…*shudders*
Cassondra: Give us all a break here. NOBODY makes lump-free gravy the first time. It takes good technique and lots of practice. And even excellent cooks fail now and then.
Jeanne: Lumpy gravy is gross. But you’re right. It takes practice getting that whisk going just right and making sure your flour doesn’t clump.
Cassondra: Yeah, and about that….you said you make good gravy. If you don’t like gravy, how do you know you make good gravy? Gravy is an art form. What exactly does “good gravy” mean to a woman who doesn’t eat it?
Jeanne: Well, good gravy is, like your mama’s fudge, acceptable in one format only. I think it is only good on stuffing. Not dressing, which is a solid, usually cube-like mass, but dressing, which is fluffier, breadier, and, well, better. Grins. (I do believe we never settled that whole dressing/stuffing thing, did we?)
Cassondra: We settled that one. We agreed to disagree. Good stuffing is not *grimaces* cube-like.
Jeanne: *ignoring the cube comment* And as to what good gravy IS, it’s smooth, light, and well blended, having only moderate or minced pieces of meat in it. These would be from the pan drippings, of course, which you use to make said gravy. If it’s from a jar? Bleeech.
Cassondra: Well at least we agree on that. I understand busy moms and harried cooks feeding their families have to sometimes resort to quicker alternatives. But gravy is so fundamentally easy
Jeanne: *raises eyebrow*
Cassondra: It is. Once you get the hang of it, it’s quicker to make gravy from drippings than it is to make it from some envelope of powder. And I can taste premix gravies a mile away. Same as I can taste fake mashed potatoes, which are, by the way, abomination. *steps back, takes a moment*
Jeanne: Well, we definitely agree there, for sure. *shudders* Fake mashed potatoes. Who thought that was a good idea? Anyway, I guess I don’t know that I DO make good gravy other than that people who’ve been with us at holiday meals where I’ve made it say I do, and then promptly empty the gravy boat. Grins.
Cassondra: You own a gravy boat? *hesitates* Wait. What am I saying? You’re almost as much of a dish whore as I am. Of course you own a gravy boat.
Jeanne: *looks smug yet again* I have several, actually. The Mikasa one there is the “big” gravy boat I use. I have a silver and a Limoges and, I think, a plain white one. Ha! But I only make gravy because there’s bound to be a mutiny at my table if I don’t, given that my darling husband and I’ll-eat-anything-not-nailed-down son are fans.
Cassondra: *studies nails* Gentlemen of refined taste, I’d say.
Jeanne: Snork! Not disagreeing, but snork! Can I continue?
Cassondra: Sorry. I get a little carried away about gravy. *waves hand* Proceed, proceed.
Jeanne: Ahem. My youngest, he’s a texture guy, like me. He steers wide and clear of the gravy. Now the cranberry sauce, on the other hand….if you want any, get it before my youngest does. Grins.
Cassondra: *shakes head* Likes slimy, ooky cranberry sauce but doesn’t like nice, smooth gravy.
Jeanne: *quirks a smile* Likes tasty, fruity, tangy delicious cranberry sauce and abjures gravy. (Have to confess, I think he suspects I will try to hide food he doesn’t like with said gravy, which he already doesn’t like the texture of, even when it’s GOOD gravy.) And you nearly turned me green with that can of “gluten-free-vegetable-gravy” – As my mother would say, “What in tarnation are they thinking?” Vegetables do NOT make gravy. Furthermore, most gluten-free stuff is like most organic stuff – it isn’t. SNORK! (But that’s a fight for another day!)
Cassondra: Ha! We have the truth of it! You gravy haters actually fear what’s hidden UNDERNEATH the gravy! Muahahahaha! The truth comes out!
Jeanne: *rolls eyes* You never did tell us how your gravy turned out.
Cassondra: It actually rocked. Good homemade drippings plus a little thickening…POOF! Good gravy!
Now it‘s up to you, Bandits and Buddies. I lost yesterday’s food fight in a terrible rout.
What about gravy?
Do you like it?
Brown gravy? Or White gravy?
If it’s white gravy for breakfast, do you like sausage in yours? (I don’t, but it’s very popular here in the south)
At the holidays, does your gravy go on your potatoes? Your turkey or ham? Your dressing? Do you drink it with a straw? I just about could….ahem.
Can you make your own gravy? What’s your secret to getting it to come out smooth?
Do you use a mix as a starter base? Or do you make it from scratch? Share your gravy secrets!
And do you own a gravy boat? More than one?
It’s that time of year for savory sauces. Let’s dish on gravy.
One commenter today will receive a $10 Barnes & Noble gift card from Cassondra, plus a copy of DEAD RUN, Jeanne’s latest Faithful Defenders romantic suspense, and a German Shepherd ornament!
photos courtesy of Wikipedia and the authors