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Traditionally gravy was made by stirring flour into the fat left in the roasting pan once the roast joint was taken out and then adding water or stock and heating the pan on the hob so that the flour thickened the liquid. Sometimes gravy powder or a stock cube was sprinkled in. Bisto gravy powder and Oxo cubes were on sale in the early years of the 20th century, but only beef flavoured. Herb and other stock cubes came much later. Before the early years of the 20th century the flavour of the meat alone had to suffice.
I have never liked the traditional method. It seems unpredictable for quantities because there is no way of knowing whether too much or too little fat will be left in the pan from any one roast. Too little fat doesn't mix the flour smoothly and makes the gravy lumpy, and too much makes the gravy taste greasy. Also making gravy this way takes my time and attention when I need to be attending to the accompaniments of the roast and serving them up.
I am not alone in disliking the traditional method which is why gravy granules seem to sell so well. Yet they do not have the same old-fashioned flavoursome taste, and the fat left in the roasting pan tends to get thrown away during a very greasy washing up session. So I use a different method for making gravy which seems to be exceptionally well received by everyone who tastes it and also saves on washing up. It is described below.
I tend to make my gravy rather by guesswork in the knowledge that there will be time to add more flour if the gravy isn't thick enough or more water if it's too thick. Similarly I can add more dripping if the taste isn't strong enough. I do, though, stick to the guideline of one beef stock cube for two people.
My method for making gravy still gives the good old fashioned taste, but it frees me from having to do several jobs at once at serving time. I make it in advance at the start of preparing the roast that it is to accompany.
If it appears from what follows that there are a lot of steps, this is not the case as most are just what you have to do anyway when cooking a roast. The significant difference in the order of doing them.
1. Parboil the vegetables for roasting. This has to be done some time in advance anyway because vegetables can take an hour or more to roast. Try to include parsnips as well as potatoes as roast parsnips have a wonderful taste and give some of their taste to the water in which they are boiled. Save the water and allow it to cool to room temperature.
2. Also in advance put about 2mm of cold water with the flour into another saucepan, choosing one with a wide base. Flour mixes smoothly into cold water, but not in hot. Provided that the saucepan is wide enough, you can go at the lumps and give them a good squash until you have a smooth paste. A flat bottomed wooden spatula is particularly effective for the squashing.
3. Add the cooled water from parboiling the vegetables, sprinkle in the beef stock cube and a good lump of dripping and bring to the boil stirring all the time until the liquid thickens. Using a flat bottomed wooden spatula and stirring with a scraping motion prevents sticking and burning at the bottom of the saucepan. When thickened, the gravy is ready for the table, but because it has been prepared in advance, it must be removed from the heat until close to serving time.
4. Because all this is done in advance, you can check the thickness of the gravy and add more flour if it is too thin, more water of it is too thick and more stock cube and dripping if the taste isn't strong enough. Any additional flour must be mixed into a paste with a little cold water first as adding it directly will make the gravy go lumpy. I like my gravy thick and my family and visitors all seem to like it this way too.
5. A few minutes before serving, reheat the gravy in the saucepan, stirring occasionally with the flat bottom wooden spatula. The scraping motion prevents sticking. Finally dish up.