A MONTH of unassisted kitchen work this winter brought me to several conclusions that were novel for me, most of them having to do with gravy, especially the gravy potential of a leg of lamb. It resolved for me, also, the issue between the “made" gravy faction and the “dish" gravy crowdan argument which seems to divide cooks on philosophical grounds as much as for other reasons. It reinforced my belief that there is nothing immoral in straining gravy before serving it. Above all, the interval (my wife’s absence to attend a new grandson) disclosed an absolute formula for a completely greaseless gravy. Herewith, then, a few headings concerning a leg of lamb and its gravy.
“Made” Gravy. — There is no use roasting a leg of lamb without benefit of its gravy by-product. Low-temperature roasting, at 250 degrees, should yield almost a quart of gravy, and there is no substitute for this in minced lamb on toast a day or two later. Minced lamb on toast is just as good as roast lamb itself, and dishgravy fanatics are advised to think on this circumstance before complaining. The cookbooks are rather fuzzy in their instructions about making gravy. Most of them speak of skimming off the fat and using only a small part of the drippings in the roasting pan, but there is no need to get involved in any such niceties at this stage — none whatever. For a beginning, then, set all the drippings to bubbling lightly, over a moderate flame, and work in a couple of tablespoons of flour. Disregard arguments that the flour ought to become sufficiently brown to darken the eventual gravy, for it is more likely that the flour will burn into black flecks if pushed too far. Color is worth having, but burned flecks will ruin the whole effect.
Five minutes’ earnest stirring will do for the flour, after which about a pint of hot vegetable water (or consomme) is added, slowly. At this stage we have an obviously greasy yet interesting mixture on the bubble. Some salt, about a half cup of a white table wine, and a few shots of Tabasco are stirred in, and the gravy is ready for the next, and perhaps the most important, ingredients.
Onions and Garlic.—Those who don’t enjoy the flavor of onions and garlic are invited to join the dishgravy group and abandon this project. For others, it should be noted that no onion or garlic has been around the lamb or the roasting pan up to this point. A long stay in the oven all but vitiates the flavor of onions and garlic, and nothing is gained by starting them off with the lamb in the roaster. Hiding a few garlic cloves inside the roast is something else again. But for gravy purposes the onion-garlic element is the last thing of all to be added.
The cook will have peeled and put through a meat grinder six small while onions and eight or ten cloves of garlic. This mixture, ready to hand, is simply dumped into the roaster and given three or four minutes of bubbling, still over the moderate flame. The gravy is now strained into a bowl, and the garlic-onion residue is thrown away. Its effect has been to provide a wonderfully fresh, lively whiff of both flavors, and the contrast with other methods in this respect is really quite spectacular.
Color.—The cook need not go around proclaiming it, but the easiest way to achieve a significant dark color is to add a few drops of Kitchen Bouquet. Let the flour-clarkeners wonder as they will.
Greasiness. — One way to overcome greasiness is to go on loading flour and liquids into the drippings until signs of the oil slick have disappeared. Such gravy becomes overextended and anemic. Yet greasiness must be eliminated. The easy way to do it and to settle the whole question beyond argument is to chill the gravy. In cold weather this is easy enough: the cook sets the gravy outdoors in an aluminum container which quickly dissipates the heat - so quickly, in fact, that the gravy can accompany the roast to the table a half-hour or so later. In other seasons, this sort of gravy ought to be held in reserve for a day or two later with the minced lamb on toast. (One drawback to serving gravy with the roast is that people rarely leave enough of it to munition the minced lamb.)
At any rate, after the gravy has chilled, the cook simply lifts from it, and discards, the lid of fat which has hardened; and what is left is not only a smooth, high-powered gravy, but a substance which would serve also as a phenomenally strong soup.
Household Hint. — If one is determined to use and wash up the minimum of kitchen equipment, he learns sooner or later to measure the dry ingredients first and use the same vessel for the wet stuff afterwards. But it irked me especially, in preparing one Sunday evening for waffles, to give over an extra bowl to the dry ingredients. Since we use a pitcher instead of a ladle for spreading the batter on the waffle iron, it seemed to me that the dry ingredients could just as well be mixed in the pitcher, and the milk-eggs-shortening be stirred and folded in the pitcher just as well as in a bowl. This proved to be the fact.
General. — The hardest part of cooking and serving a complete meal for three or four people, I found, was to remember the trifles which had always seemed previously to take care of themselves: ash trays, matches, spoons for the after-dinner coffee cups, and such. On one of my dinner parties, my greatest sense of accomplishment came from not forgetting to pour the water just before the meal.