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Sage gravy

Maura Friedman

Sage gravy


Learn the basics of the 5 truly classic Southern gravies

Fewer sauces bring more soulful comfort to a dish than gravy, perhaps because it's frequently served with some of our favorite comfort foods: mashed potatoes, biscuits, chicken fried steak and many more.

From the thick, peppery sawmill variety to the light but punchy red eye, gravy comes in a variety of flavors and levels of viscosity. Some may even fancy the sauce as one of the South’s culinary “religions.” Here are some delicious examples of the many different styles of gravy you can make as part of your next meal.

Brown Gravy

For most of America and western Europe, gravy can only take one form: a roux-thickened brown sauce poured over roasted meats, potatoes or even rice. Brown gravy packs an umami-laden punch that enhances the natural flavors of its meatier friends. Need proof? Think about a slice of carved Thanksgiving turkey breast; it lacks much of its own inherent flavor. Now, nap that same turkey with lashings of sage-spiked gravy made from the roasted turkey drippings and you have an annual tradition worth anticipating.

Because of its basic technique, brown gravy can easily be upgraded with additional flavors, such as sliced onions, mushrooms, or fresh herbs. Try this recipe for braised beef tongue prepared in the style of pot roast with rich onion gravy. As the onions soften, they impart extra depth of flavor to the sauce, which is used to finish the beef. You could just as easily use a chuck or rump roast if tongue makes you squeamish; the technique for the gravy remains the same.
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Tomato Gravy

Visit Appalachia and you’ll find zippy tomato gravy all over the place. A true pantry hero, the tomato-based sauce starts with oil, bacon fat, or even fried chicken drippings before being thickened with flour or cornmeal. Unlike brown gravy, tomato gravy uses no broth or stock; rather, its base comes from canned tomatoes enriched with milk and heavy cream. Because of the acidity from the tomatoes, this is the perfect sauce to serve alongside seafood, either as a sauce for shrimp and grits or a warm, velvety blanket for smothered fried catfish. On the other hand, simply spooning it over fluffy biscuits won't hurt either.
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Sawmill Gravy

Speaking of biscuits, no comprehensive gravy guide would be complete without mentioning one of the South’s greatest culinary contributions: biscuits and gravy. That magical elixir on top is known as sawmill gravy, a white sauce studded with crumbled breakfast sausage.

To make this legendary, nap-inducing breakfast, brown sausage in a skillet and add flour to absorb the fat. Add milk or half and half to form the body of the sauce, then season with a liberal sprinkling of cracked black pepper. Pour over hot biscuits, then clear your schedule and wait for the lethargy to creep in. One of sawmill gravy’s not-too-distant cousins, cream gravy, lacks the sausage, but can be made from the pan drippings from chicken fried steak. Just don’t skimp on the black pepper.
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Red Eye Gravy

We’re pork-loving people in the South, and no sauce captures the porky essence of country ham more than red eye gravy. At its simplest form, red eye gravy involves browning slabs of cured country ham in a skillet, then using strong coffee to remove the ham drippings from the bottom of the pan to form a thin sauce that’s both bitter and salty — perfect for serving with grits, biscuits and eggs.

Here, we've developed a recipe that can take red eye gravy beyond the perfect country breakfast. Before you call the red eye police over our use of ingredients like chicken broth, brown sugar, and (gasp!) Italian parsley, please note that this particular recipe is made to be served as a sauce for seared pork, chicken, or even rabbit. Thin pieces of country ham means that you get a bit of salty pork in every bite, and the main protein isn’t overwhelmed by red eye’s inherently strong flavors. Just try it before you send the hate mail, okay?
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Chocolate Gravy
Gravy for dessert? Surely a Southerner created this glorious melange of cocoa powder, sugar and roux-thickened milk, which forms a thick, flowing sauce. Sweet and decadent, chocolate dessert gravy is delicious when poured over biscuits (sensing a theme here?), pancakes, ice cream, cookies or really anywhere you would normally pour chocolate syrup.

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Chef Jeffrey Gardner is a native of Natchez, Miss., and a graduate of Millsaps College and Johnson & Wales University. He lives in Atlanta and has served as sous chef for popular restaurants South City Kitchen Midtown and Alma Cocina. In 2013 he became executive chef for East Cobb restaurant Common Quarter and was named one of ten “Next Generation of Chefs to Watch” by the Atlanta Business Chronicle. He has appeared on TV shows including Food Network’s Chopped and Cooking Channel’s How to Live to 100, and also filmed a series of healthy cooking videos with retired pro wrestler and fitness guru Diamond Dallas Page. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling the world with his wife Wendy, watching game shows and “spending all his money on Bruce Springsteen concerts.”