After weeks of battling it out in the kitchen, Ed Balls was crowned the first winner of Celebrity Best Home Cook. In the competition, the former Labour politician paid tribute to his mother Carolyn, showcasing her recipes of shepherd’s pie and gravy.
“My mum taught me to do roast dinners.” Balls told Radio Times. “I love making gravy – it’s really important, and I always make a nice, brown gravy. My daughter thought Mary Berry would like a much lighter gravy, so I thought hard on how to make my chicken gravy light and much less pungent and strong.”
Sadly, judges Dame Mary Berry and chef Angela Hartnett deemed Balls’s chicken gravy ‘too light’. “I thought, after all these years, I didn’t get my gravy right,” said Balls. “And how could I have done that? I know how to make gravy!”
Balls shared his gravy thoughts on Twitter, unleashing the floodgates in what he calls ‘gravy gate’, where people weighed in on their preferences. Who’s right? We decided to put the debate to bed and ask chefs how to make it at home.
It may seem simple enough, but the possibilities are limitless: from light gravy made from chicken or pork – to a darker type made with dark meats like beef, venison, and duck. Without further ado, all aboard the gravy train.
The Basic One
For an easy-to-make gravy that’ll taste delicious, try Henry Freestone’s idea. The chef, from Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant Peckham Cellars, says Bovril is the secret ingredient for a cheat’s way of making a basic gravy.
“Bovril works wonders as a cheap, quick beef stock,” he explains. “Whisk in beef stock made from Bovril and hot water. Add rosemary, thyme, and a couple of smashed garlic cloves. Always taste and season at the end of cooking when it’s at the desired consistency, so as not to over season.
“Often a pinch of sugar will bring out the flavour. And always cook with fresh herbs, as they turn a bog standard gravy into a delicious one.”
The Medium One
If you want to up the fancy factor, try cooking gravy with wine, says Oliver Gladwin, chef Patron and co-founder of Gladwin Brothers. The alcohol in wine evaporates when it’s cooking – and only the flavour remains – but be careful of adding too much, as the flavour could overpower your gravy.
To do it, go ahead and make your gravy – whether that be instant granules, a Bovril stock like above, or your own take – then add a couple of tablespoons of alcohol, says Gladwin. “If it was grouse, I would choose Armagnac (brandy); if it was beef, go for red wine and white wine for chicken,” he recommends.
“Reduce to a syrup very slowly and make sure to skim. You’ll know it’s the right consistency when it’s thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.”
The Advanced One
If you want to take your gravy to the next level – or just have a lot of time to hone your gravy skills – head chef Joe Rozier, from The Mariners Pub by Paul Ainsworth, suggests going to your butcher to get beef bones. “The best gravies use good quality bones and meat trimmings,” he tells HuffPost UK.
“Make a stock by roasting the bones in an oven preheated to 180°C for 45 minutes, before covering with water and adding some black peppercorns and some woody herbs like thyme and rosemary,” he advises. “I would always use a good quality stock to add extra flavour – my suggestion would be TRUEfoods.”
Rozier says adding in mushrooms will help give a delicious umami flavour. “Let your gravy infuse on a low heat for three hours, but be careful not to boil,” he says. “It depends on how full-body you want it, but when making fresh gravy at the pub, we would definitely still fold Bisto to help thicken it.”
It’s also worth preserving all your hard work and sticking it in the freezer before serving. “Freezing the gravy can help clarify it,” Rozier adds. “When you take it out of the freezer, the fat will have separated and floated to the top and that way you can remove some of it.
“Freezing in containers also takes the stress out of making every weekend.”