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By Cook's Illustrated Published November 2003

All-Purpose Gravy

Published November 2003

Why This Recipe Works

Gravy, by definition, is a thickened sauce made of meat juices and pan drippings, usually left over from a roast. But what if you don’t have a roast on hand and want gravy for some mashed potatoes or pork chops? We wanted to create a top-notch, all-purpose gravy that could be made quickly, without any special ingredients.

When we began our tests, we assumed that some combination of supermarket broths and sautéed vegetables thickened with flour would be most likely to give us the results we wanted. But water and vegetable broths made for flavorless gravies, while chicken and beef broths alone dominated the gravy. Equal amounts of chicken and beef broth, however, provided a meaty yet balanced base.

With our broth mixture determined, we turned to the vegetables. A standard mirepoix (a mixture of onions, carrots, and celery) lightly sautéed in oil contributed a rounded sweetness and body, but it failed to accent the gravy’s meatiness or to impart any roasted flavor. In most gravy recipes, the fond (the browned bits at the bottom of a roasting pan) provides concentrated flavor and an appealing nutty-brown color. It occurred to us that we could create similar bits of rich, caramelized flavor by developing a vegetable fond. We were right; simply extending the cooking time and sautéing the vegetables until they were well browned resulted in a more pronounced roasted, meaty flavor. Switching from oil to butter (for more flavor) and chopping the vegetables in a food processor (for smaller, more uniform pieces) further enhanced our fond.

Our final step was to thicken the gravy. We tried a variety of techniques but got the best results by sprinkling a little flour into the sautéed vegetables to create a classic roux. The gravy was getting better, but it still lacked depth. We borrowed a method from Creole gumbos and took our roux far past the pale blond shade of our previous tests, cooking it until it became the color of milk chocolate. This simple technique developed complex flavor elements, provided an unexpectedly rich roasted flavor, and added a meaty intensity. Together with the caramelized vegetable fond, the darkened roux lent the gravy a rich, deep brown color. A classic combination of dried thyme, bay leaf, and peppercorns finished our surprisingly simple yet deeply flavorful gravy.

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds fresh sweet cherries, pitted and halved
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour, plus 1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces)
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 large eggs
2/3 cup (4 2/3 ounces) plus 2 teaspoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Instructions

Makes 2 cups

We prefer whole milk in this recipe, but 1 or 2 percent low-fat milk may be substituted. Do not substitute frozen cherries for the fresh cherries.

1. Adjust oven racks to lowest and upper-middle positions; place 12-inch skillet on lower rack and heat oven to 425 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and place cherries, cut side up, on sheet. Roast cherries on upper rack until just tender and cut sides look dry, about 15 minutes. Transfer cherries to medium bowl, toss with lemon juice, and let cool for 5 minutes. Combine 2 teaspoons flour and cinnamon in small bowl; dust flour mixture evenly over cherries and toss to coat thoroughly.

2. Meanwhile, whisk eggs, 2/3 cup sugar, vanilla, and salt in large bowl until smooth and pale, about 1 minute. Whisk in remaining 1/2 cup flour until smooth. Whisk in cream and milk until incorporated.

3. Remove skillet (skillet handle will be hot) from oven and set on wire rack. Add butter and swirl to coat bottom and sides of skillet (butter will melt and brown quickly). Pour batter into skillet and arrange cherries evenly on top (some will sink). Transfer skillet to lower rack and bake until clafouti puffs and turns golden brown (edges will be dark brown) and center registers 195 degrees, 18 to 22 minutes, rotating skillet halfway through baking. Transfer skillet to wire rack and let cool for 25 minutes. Sprinkle clafouti evenly with remaining 2 teaspoons sugar. Slice into wedges and serve.

4. Adjust oven racks to lowest and upper-middle positions; place 12-inch skillet on lower rack and heat oven to 425 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and place cherries, cut side up, on sheet. Roast cherries on upper rack until just tender and cut sides look dry, about 15 minutes. Transfer cherries to medium bowl, toss with lemon juice, and let cool for 5 minutes. Combine 2 teaspoons flour and cinnamon in small bowl; dust flour mixture evenly over cherries and toss to coat thoroughly.

5. Meanwhile, whisk eggs, 2/3 cup sugar, vanilla, and salt in large bowl until smooth and pale, about 1 minute. Whisk in remaining 1/2 cup flour until smooth. Whisk in cream and milk until incorporated.

6. Remove skillet (skillet handle will be hot) from oven and set on wire rack. Add butter and swirl to coat bottom and sides of skillet (butter will melt and brown quickly). Pour batter into skillet and arrange cherries evenly on top (some will sink). Transfer skillet to lower rack and bake until clafouti puffs and turns golden brown (edges will be dark brown) and center registers 195 degrees, 18 to 22 minutes, rotating skillet halfway through baking. Transfer skillet to wire rack and let cool for 25 minutes. Sprinkle clafouti evenly with remaining 2 teaspoons sugar. Slice into wedges and serve.

7. Adjust oven racks to lowest and upper-middle positions; place 12-inch skillet on lower rack and heat oven to 425 degrees. Line rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and place cherries, cut side up, on sheet. Roast cherries on upper rack until just tender and cut sides look dry, about 15 minutes. Transfer cherries to medium bowl, toss with lemon juice, and let cool for 5 minutes. Combine 2 teaspoons flour and cinnamon in small bowl; dust flour mixture evenly over cherries and toss to coat thoroughly.

8. Meanwhile, whisk eggs, 2/3 cup sugar, vanilla, and salt in large bowl until smooth and pale, about 1 minute. Whisk in remaining 1/2 cup flour until smooth. Whisk in cream and milk until incorporated.

9. Remove skillet (skillet handle will be hot) from oven and set on wire rack. Add butter and swirl to coat bottom and sides of skillet (butter will melt and brown quickly). Pour batter into skillet and arrange cherries evenly on top (some will sink). Transfer skillet to lower rack and bake until clafouti puffs and turns golden brown (edges will be dark brown) and center registers 195 degrees, 18 to 22 minutes, rotating skillet halfway through baking. Transfer skillet to wire rack and let cool for 25 minutes. Sprinkle clafouti evenly with remaining 2 teaspoons sugar. Slice into wedges and serve.

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