Eden’s learning project in the kitchen this week was gravy. People make a really big deal about gravy, making it a lot more difficult than it really is. I am always surprised by how many people buy those gravy mixes in little packets at the store. Why would you buy a mix for something that has only three ingredients: fat, flour, and water (or milk)? I knew gravy was something I definitely want my kids to have mastered before they leave home.
At Christmas time, a contractor Shandy works for gave us a large spiral cut ham. With our new very-low-meat diet, we did not want to eat the ham all at once, and baked ham has never been our favorite anyway. So I divided the meat up into many small packages, and we have been using the ham for flavoring for numerous meals. We have eaten baked beans, corn chowder with ham, and ham pizza. Today, we used ham for gravy. This is, by the way, a very inexpensive way to feed a family.
When making ham gravy, there are two options. You can fry the ham first as a steak, and then make gravy with the “drippings” (fat and flavoring left over in the pan), or fry the ham in bite size pieces and include it in the gravy. We prefer the second option, especially with the ham from a spiral cut ham which is very thinly sliced. You could also buy sliced deli ham to make gravy the same way. We started with about 3/4 pound of thinly sliced ham. Either way, you will probably need to add butter or oil as fat to the pan. To make enough gravy, we added about 6 tablespoons of butter.
After the ham is fried in the butter and beginning to turn color, up to 10 minutes at medium high heat, you can begin to add flour to the pan. Add a little flour and whisk it into the fat, combining completely and allowing the flour to completely soak up the fat. You will need to add approximately as much flour as you had fat, adding it slowly to allow it to absorb the fat. It is better if it doesn’t clump up to much, but at this point it doesn’t really matter. You can stir the lumps back out as you add the liquid. Continue adding flour until the fat has been completely absorbed by the flour, and then add about one more tablespoon.
For Southern-style biscuits and gravy, milk is the traditional liquid. Add about one cup of liquid to the pan and whisk briskly. As it is absorbed, continue to add milk, 3/4 cup to 1 cup at a time, whisking until it is absorbed. After about the third addition, the gravy will start to thin out, and then additions will need to be smaller, so that the gravy remains thick. In total, you will add about 6 cups of liquid to this amount of fat. As the gravy thickens and then thins, you should turn down the heat on your stove to control the cooking rate, ending up at low to maintain the gravy at good temperature while you make biscuits.
Ham Gravy (serves 6)
3/4 lb. ham (could substitute country-style sausage, fry until nearly done before continuing)
6 Tablespoons butter
1/2 cup flour (approximately)
6 cups milk (approximately)
Eden has been making biscuits for a while now. She learned well the secret about not patting them out too thin, so that she makes beautiful, tall biscuits.
Buttermilk Biscuits (adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything)
Makes about 8 tall biscuits
2 cups flour (sometimes we use half whole-wheat, but Eden prefers white flour biscuits)
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
5 tablespoons cold butter
7/8 cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 425. Mix together dry ingredients. Cut in butter with pastry cutter. Quickly mix in the buttermilk. Add more if necessary, but do not get the dough too wet. Fold together with your hands to make soft dough, very gently. Pat out on well floured counter to 3/4 to 1 inch thickness. Cut with biscuit cutter or knives and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Reshape leftover dough very gently and cut again. Bake about 12 minutes to golden brown, and serve hot, topped with gravy or butter and honey.
Biscuits and gravy with fried eggs and a smile. What a great dinner for Daddy to come home to!
This gravy is a basic tool that I used (calling it sauce) instead of ever buying canned soups while making tuna casserole, macaroni and cheese, and even lasagna, because using the fat without the meat in this recipe results in a bechamel “white” sauce, to which cheese or sour cream can be added to make an even richer sauce, or an egg to make a hollandaise. Eden may need a few more tries before she is completely independent on gravy, but soon she will have this basic tool as part of her cooking repertoire.
Do you use a basic sauce like this one as part of your cooking toolbag? Do you have another basic recipe that kids should learn to use? Please leave me a comment below.