Ask any of my friends what my favourite food is and they’ll almost certainly reply with: noodles, dim sum or gravy. My girlfriend would probably say all three. Noodles and dim sum, however, are recent additions: only making the cut after living near China Town in Sydney, Australia a few years ago. I’ve had a love affair with the gravy, the silky-smooth Sunday staple, since before I was old enough to boil the kettle, use a sharp knife or spell the word gravy.
Gravy, to me, and many other Brits – most famously those from ‘tup north’ – is a liquid blanket of comfort. It’s a weekly embrace of meaty goodness that, more often than not, comes in powder form and is mixed with water in a plastic measuring jug; with numbers only recognisable when tilted at an angle. I call this: ‘builder’s gravy’.
For Christmas dinner and Sunday lunch, good gravy is as important as crispy roast potatoes, homemade Yorkshire puddings and silly paper hats. It needs to complement everything on the plate; have a rich taste without being overpowering; contain no lumps and –most importantly – should never come from a jar.
Here are a few recipes that help you make amazing gravy from scratch. We’ve got recipes for all of the usual Christmas meats, so there’s no excuse for builder’s gravy this year.
Jamie Oliver created this ‘get ahead recipe‘, which can be made in advance and kept in the freezer for up to a month. It’s a really great recipe and is great if you’re a super organised chef.
• 5 fresh bay leaves
• 5 fresh sage leaves
• 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
• 2 star anise
• 2 rashers of smoked streaky bacon , the best quality you can afford
• 8 higher-welfare chicken wings
• olive oil
• sea salt
• freshly ground black pepper
• 4 tablespoons plain flour
• 60 ml sherry or port , optional
• 2 heaped dessert spoons cranberry sauce, for finishing
Preheat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF/gas 6. Put the veg, herbs and star anise into a sturdy bottomed roasting tray. Scatter the bacon on top. Break the chicken wings open then put them onto a board and bash the bones up with the end of a rolling pin; this will release more of their flavour. Put them in the pan, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle over a few pinches of salt and pepper then toss everything together and put the tray in the oven to cook for 1 hour, or until the meat is tender and falling off the bone.
Take the pan out of the oven, and put it on a hob over a low heat and use a potato masher to really grind and mash everything up. Keep mashing, moving and scraping all the goodness from the bottom of the pan as you go. Gradually mix in the flour to thicken the mixture. The longer you let everything fry, the darker your gravy will be. When the flour is combined pour in 2 litres of hot water, turn the heat up and bring to the boil for 10 minutes, till thickened, then turn down the heat and simmer for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. If you want to add 60ml sherry or port for flavour, do that now.
When it’s reached the consistency you’re looking for, check the seasoning then push it through a sieve into a large bowl. Really push and mash everything through so you get as much flavour as possible. Discard anything left behind. Once it has cooled down to room temperature put it into containers or freezer bags and pop it in your freezer. You’ll finish it off on Christmas Day.
Finishing the gravy:
To finish the gravy, take your it out of the freezer when you’re ready to cook your turkey. That way, it will defrost as your turkey cooks. When the turkey is perfectly cooked, put a carving fork inside the cavity and use that to pick the bird up and tilt it over the pan so all of the juices inside run out.
Goose meat is really dark and quite rich in flavour, so a sweet and light gravy works best. I found this ‘caramelized onion and apple cider gravy‘ a while ago and have used it on goose and pork. It’s seriously good.
• 4 cups thinly sliced onions (from about 2 medium onions)
• 1 garlic clove, peeled
• 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
• 1 tablespoon brown sugar
• 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
• 2 tablespoons cornstarch
• 1 cup hard apple cider
• 1 cup vegetable stock
• 4 sprigs fresh thyme
• 1 bay leaf
• Salt, to taste
Add the sliced onions, garlic, butter, brown sugar and balsamic vinegar to the insert of your slow cooker. Cover and set your slow cooker to low. Cook the onions for at least 8 hours, or up to 12 hours. The onions will be very soft and browned when they are finished cooking.
Remove the cover from your slow cooker. Add the cornstarch and stir until the onions are coated. Then stir in the apple cider, vegetable stock, thyme and the bay leaf. Cover, set your slow cooker to high and cook for an additional 1 hour.
After an hour, remove the cover from your slow cooker. Using a pair of tongs, remove and discard the thyme sprigs and the bay leaf.
Transfer the contents of your slow cooker to your blender and blend on high until the gravy reaches your desired consistency. Depending on the size of your blender, you may have to work in batches, being very careful when transferring and blending hot liquids.
Return the gravy to the slow cooker. Taste and add salt, if desired. Keep the gravy warm (set your slow cooker to either the warm or low setting), until you are ready to serve it. Alternately, the gravy can be made 1 to 2 days in advance, refrigerated in an airtight container and then reheated before serving.
Duck isn’t a tradition in our house, but I know some people do have it for their Christmas dinner. The BBC have this lovely madeira gravy recipe listed, which sounds amazing. The recipe comes with instructions for cooking the duck and red cabbage; we’d love to know what it’s like if you try it.
Roast ham is one of my favourite things ever. I find it almost impossible to keep my hands off of it.
Christmas is the only time I’d cover it in gravy, and here is a really good recipe that’ll add some oomph to your Christmas ham.
Ham with Maple Gravy
- 1 fully cooked boneless ham (6 pounds)
- 30 whole cloves
- 3/4 cup maple syrup, divided
- 4 teaspoons ground mustard
- 2 cups apple juice
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 3 tablespoons water
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 6 medium tart apples, cut into 1/2-inch slices
Place ham on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Score the surface of the ham, making diamond shapes 1/2 in. deep; insert a clove in each diamond. Combine 1/2 cup maple syrup and mustard; pour over ham. Pour apple juice into the roasting pan. Bake at 325° for 1-1/2 to 2 hours or until a meat thermometer reads 140°, basting frequently.
Remove ham and keep warm. Transfer the pan juices to a saucepan. Combine cornstarch and water until smooth; add to saucepan. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 1 minute or until thickened.
In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add apples and remaining maple syrup. Cover and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Slice ham; serve with apples and gravy. Yield: 14 servings.
There’s so much you can add to a good beef stock to make an amazing gravy: red wine, wholegrain mustard, peppercorns etc. Here I’ve included a really great yet super simple red wine recipe. You can adapt this recipe to different meats, but beef will definitely work best.
Red Wine Gravy
- Meat and vegetables roasted in a roasting tin
- 2-3tbsp plain flour
- 300ml (9½fl oz) red wine
- 300ml (9½fl oz) stock or water
Remove the meat and vegetables from the roasting pan. Pour off all but about 2tbsp of the fat. Place the roasting pan over a medium heat and sprinkle over the flour. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon for 1 minute, or until the flour has browned slightly.
Gradually add the wine and the stock or water, stirring constantly to loosen any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the tin. Heat, stirring well, until the sauce has thickened and is smooth. Simmer gently for 10 minutes, adding a little more stock or water if necessary to reach the desired consistency. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.