At its heart the role of a sauce is to carry flavour that will either enhance or make a contrast to the dish it accompanies. Whether it is a sauce, a jus or gravy, it should make the dish more enjoyable, more succulent, tastier, of course, and more interesting.
A sauce can be as simple as the pan juices remaining in the dish after roasting meat or poultry, (known as jus), or as complex as a multi-stepped process involving browning bones and making stock before starting the sauce.
The trick to a good jus is ensuring you don’t burn sediment as food cooks. If this happens, scrape up dark bits and remove. The jus will most likely be oily, and while an emulsion can form by boiling it hard with wine or stock, most of us prefer to scoop off excess fat first. The idea is to add liquid to the tin which will help lift up sticky or browned residue because this is loaded with flavour.
For a roast chicken there is no happier marriage than verjuice (typically made from unfermented green grapes). It’s easier to use than wine because you don’t have to boil away the alcohol – just splash it in, bubble it up and away you go. You can turn this into a gorgeous creamy richly flavoured sauce by adding fresh tarragon leaves in summer or thyme leaves in winter and a generous dollop of crème fraiche. Lip-smackingly good! Read more about making jus here Jus
Gravy is a little different to a jus because it is usually thickened.
The classic way to thicken a gravy is with flour, and this can form the basis of an absolutely delicious gravy, especially if the flour is cooked to a russet-brown before stock is added (it develops a nutty flavour). Use unsalted stock in case the gravy needs to be reduced, which could make the gravy too salty. Potato water (the water in which potatoes are cooked) is excellent in gravy as it contains starch which helps thicken the gravy.
Traditionally, gravy for roast beef is thinner than that for lamb (or hogget or mutton). Hopefully you’ve got some good pan drippings to kick off with…
How to make lump-free, tasty gravy
• It’s easy! Remove meat/poultry from roasting tin, tilt tin and scoop off most of the fat, leaving a scant 2 tablespoons of fat and fat-coated sediment. Stir in 2 tablespoons flour (use an equal ratio of fat to flour for gravy). The flour should absorb all the fat. If there are oily slicks, add more flour to absorb them or they will float to the top of the finished gravy.
• Place tin over a low heat and slowly let the flour brown, stirring often. Slowly stir in 400ml (about ½ pint) unsalted stock or vegetable water. Increase heat to medium. Use a slotted fish slice for stirring, squashing any lumps that may form. It’s a great trick!
• Bring to a gentle boil and cook for 2-3 minutes to cook the flour through. If it is too thin, bubble away to reduce, stirring often. If it is too thick, thin it with more stock or water. And if it is lumpy, run it through a sieve.
• Season with salt, then finish with a splash of port (good with venison and beef), a spoonful of redcurrant jelly or dab of mustard (great with pork or duck), a tablespoon of chopped thyme or squeeze of orange juice (great with lamb) or a tablespoon of fresh or dried tarragon (great with chicken or duck). Alternatively, add a small thinly sliced onion to the pan and brown in the fat and sediment (you could add rosemary, garlic, shallots, mushrooms etc,) then continue as described. If the gravy still tastes flat after all the love you have given it, swirl in a dab of vegemite or a little dot or two of miso paste.
One more gravy trick!
Rather than having the bother of making gravy at the very last minute, make it as soon as you have the meat out of the roasting tin. Transfer it to a small saucepan as soon as it’s made and cover with a lid to stop a skin from forming. This gets the cumbersome roasting tin out of the way. When ready to serve the roasted meat, quickly reheat gravy and pour it piping hot into a heated sauceboat or jug. This way you have skin-free lovely hot gravy!
Freeze leftover gravy in an ice cube tray (line it with plastic wrap) and use it to flavour baby’s vegetables (or the dog’s dinner) providing it is not too salty!