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Good Gravy! More History?

Christmas dinner is a meal traditionally eaten at Christmas. This meal can take place any time from the evening of Christmas Eve to the evening of Christmas Day itself. The meals are often particularly rich and substantial, in the tradition of the Christian feast day celebration, and form a significant part of gatherings held to celebrate the arrival of Christmastide. In many cases, there is a ritual element to the meal related to the religious celebration, such as the saying of grace.

In English-speaking Canada, Christmas dinner is similar to that of Britain. Traditional Christmas dinner features turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, and vegetables. Other types of poultry, roast beef, or ham, are also used. Pumpkin or apple pie, raisin pudding, Christmas pudding, or fruitcake are staples for dessert. Eggnog, a milk-based punch often infused with alcohol, is also popular around the holiday season. Other Christmas items include Christmas cookies, butter tarts, and shortbread, which are traditionally baked before the holidays and served to visiting friends at Christmas and New Year parties, as well as on Christmas Day.

Of course the food and traditions of Christmas vary greatly from country to country, I would need to write a book just to begin to explain. We have featured a number of posts over the last week pertaining to the cooking of turkey, baked goodies and such, have a look through the archives. Looking for help with your preparations? Join the site and get access to our database of recipes and cookbooks HERE. Now for the rest of the story, good gravy!

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 reserved separately. Now some of 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/250 ml for every 1–2 tablespoons/10–20 gm 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: hearty, and when they are extremely thick, almost bready. The cook can obtain a 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.

Cheers, and have a great week!

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