For many kids growing up in the 1960s an easy and favorite meal was chipped beef on toast. Mom made a white gravy and cut up some packaged chipped beef and added some fresh peas. Try it on your kids and get them to do the toasting of the bread. Many of us don’t get around to making a gravy or sauce very often, but it really isn’t all that difficult.
The key to a good sauce is in the thickening. You can use flour, cornstarch or arrowroot as your thickening agent. If using flour, it is best to mix it in with room-temperature fat to create a paste. The fat can be butter or cream cheese or fat drippings from meat if making gravy. Make sure to simmer any flour-based paste a couple of minutes to cook out the raw flour taste. Do this before adding it to a sauce for thickening or before adding milk, soup base or other fluids to it for gravy.
A roux is a mix of flour and fat in equal quantities. It is used to darken a sauce. The sauce is then added to the roux. The recipe is to mix 1 tablespoon of flour with 1 tablespoon of warm fat for every half cup of liquid you will be adding to the thickening paste.
If you are using cornstarch or arrowroot as a thickener, you don’t really need any fat. Just dissolve either of these dry compounds in cool water. Handle them gently, since too much stirring can be counter productive and actually thin rather than thicken the sauce. A little salt or sugar will help separate the thickening mixture.
If your sauce is hot add just a little of it to the thickening cornstarch or arrowroot mixture to warm it up before adding it to the rest of the sauce. The thicker the mixture of cornstarch or arrowroot with water, the thicker the sauce will be. You may use milk if you don’t have a sauce and want to make a white gravy. Mix 1 tablespoon of cornstarch or arrowroot with 2 tablespoons of cool water for every cup of liquid.
You may flavor a white gravy or sauce with basil, cayenne, celery seed, chervil, chives, curry powder, horseradish, marjoram, nutmeg, sorrel or tarragon. Add salt and pepper to taste or add cheese to make cheesy gravy. You can make a very easy, flavorful sauce for broccoli, cauliflower or other vegetables by melting a little butter with prepared mustard. Cheddar cheese is a great addition to this and will thicken the mixture.
Dip garden tomatoes into boiling water for a half a minute and peel them. Cut them up and puree them for a sauce. Fresh pureed tomatoes make a great addition to any crock-pot recipe or homemade spaghetti sauce. Red sauces are often sited as a healthier choice over white sauces, which contain more dairy and thus, more fat.
There is no need to buy all those packets containing a lot of salt and “unnatural” flavorings. All you need is flour, butter and a saucepan. Even if you are doing a red sauce, it is less expensive to buy pure tomato sauce in a can and add your own herbs and seasonings, than buy the prepared sauces in a jar. Look at sauces and gravies as an opportunity to experiment with or use up all those spices that you have been collecting in your drawer. In the time that it would take to go to the grocery store, you can make your own sauce or gravy at home. The best thing is you will know what is in it!