13 June 2009

It's Sauce, Not Gravy

I'm putting this here because it's too long to put on my facebook page. This is in response to one of the multitude of polls that litter facebook. This one asking "What do YOU (sic) call the red stuff on pasta, sauce or gravy?" My cousin replied to my (accurate) "vote" of "sauce" noting incredulously, "Really?"
Yes, really. Below is from On Food & Cooking by Harold McGee, one of the finest resources you could ever hope to have in your kitchen. There are few real recipes, but it contains everything you'll ever need to know about the stuff we prepare and eat.

We come now to the homely Anglo-American cousin of French sauces, the starch-thickened gravy typically made to accompany a roast. This is a last-minute sauce that's put together just before serving, and consists of the roast's juices, extended with additional liquid, and thickened with flour. The drippings from the roast, both fat and browned solids, give the gravy its flavor and color. First the fat is poured off and reserved, and the pan is "deglazed": the browned solids are lifted from the roasting pan with a small amount of water, wine, beer or stock. The liquid dissolves the browning-reaction products that have stuck to the pan and so takes up their especially rich flavors. The deglazing liquid is poured off and reseverd separately. Now some of the the fat is returned to the pan with an equal volume of flour, and the flour cooked until it has lost its raw aroma. The deglazing liquid is added, around a cup/250ml for every 1-2 tablespoons/10-20gm flour. The mixture is cooked until it thickens, a matter of a few minutes.
Because they're made at the last minute, gravies are not cooked long enough to cause the disintegration of the starch granules, and therefore generally have a slightly coarse texture, even when lump-free. This gives gravies a character very different from that of the suave sauce: heart and when they are extremely thick, almost bready. The cook can obtain smoother consistency by making an initial preparation from the flour and a fraction of the deglazing liquid, heating the mixture until the starch granules gelate and crowd up against each other to form a thick paste, and whisking the paste vigorously to smash the granules into each other and break them up into finer pieces. This paste is then mixed with the rest of the deglazing liquid and simmered until it's evenly dispersed and the liquid reaches the desired consistency.(emphasis added)

Me again. Now, I don't know how you make your tomato sauce, but I've had several recipes over the years, my current and the best I've had since my grandmother's passed to me by Bill D., and none of them have ever been last-minute--good tomato sauce takes at least three and up to five hours to make--and none of them are starch-based. And even when you're making a "meat sauce" it is still tomato-based and not thickened with starch.
The very small part of me that remains conservative can respect that those that mistakenly refer to tomato sauce as "gravy" are doing so out of family tradition: their Sunday's were notable for the "Sunday gravy" that was going to be served with their pasta. I can respect the misnomer, but I don't have to honor it.

It's sauce.