The process is inevitable. As times change, more and more of the things people once considered a staple of their culture fade into obscurity. Changing tastes, lack of ingredients, modernization of eating habits, or lack of cooking tradition all contribute to the evolution of our cuisine. Subsequently, for one reason or another, the staples of our parents tables (or our grandparents for that matter) become a distant, nostalgic, memory.
Such is the story of tomato gravy. At least, in my family.
If you ask my mother, tomato gravy was a common accompaniment to a full breakfast in her family. Ironically, however, it was not a regular accompaniment to breakfast when she cooked for me.
Why is that?
Was tomato gravy a victim of our faster paced lifestyle? Was there a taste-change, or maybe a sense of being burned out from eating it regularly as a child? I don’t know.
I do know that once in a blue moon, my Grandmother made her tomato gravy for all of us. Usually at a family function (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter etc.) as an option for those who don’t like giblet gravy (Ooh! I smell a future post! )
Ironically, the last time I had tomato gravy was two Christmases ago at my Mothers house (remember, the one who didn’t cook it?) Which begged me to ask myself a few questions.
Do you like tomato gravy?
Is it simple to prepare?
Is it time consuming?
Are the ingredients readily available?
Yes, they’re in my pantry year round.
So why has it been two years since you’ve eaten it?
To make a long story short, I have no idea why I don’t cook this on a regular basis. Especially since my wife and I have started a family tradition of having a big home-cooked breakfast on Saturday mornings. Despite this, it eludes me. I never think “Oh I want some tomato gravy with my biscuits!” Even though if I was at a restaurant that had it on the menu, I’d slather it on a biscuit so fast it would make your head spin.
But, I digress.
For all of you who don’t know how to make this, here’s the base recipe my family uses. Only, to be completely honest, I’m guessing on the amounts. This is always been an “eyeballed” recipe due to the fact that it only requires knowledge of one cooking technique to make it. Namely, making a simple roux (something that I will more-than-likely touch on in a future post.)
¼ cup of oil (pan drippings, butter, vegetable oil)
½ cup of flour (all purpose is fine)
2 cups of milk
1 can of diced tomatoes (28oz or less, drained but not pressed out)
Salt and Black Pepper to taste
Heat oil over med/low heat until it comes up to temperature. Add flour slowly, a teaspoon at a time, shaken evenly over the surface area of the pan and stirring to combine before adding more. This is the foundation of your roux. Cook the roux, stirring constantly, until it achieves a blonds color (just slightly lighter than peanut butter. Add milk and stir to combine until smooth. Add tomatoes, and cook for around 5 minutes, until gravy has thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately.
As for the health conscious among you, I know your first thought was “I’ll use vegetable oil.” Go right ahead, you’ll make a great gravy. I would just ask, that for your own safety, you stop reading this article right here. I’m not responsible for what happens to you if you continue reading.
Now for the rest of us, the health heathens if you will, here’s how to give your tomato gravy that restaurant quality taste. You know how all those restaurant sauces have a huge depth of flavor and a texture almost impossible to recreate? That’s because they use clarified butter. Buy it in a store, or make your own by cooking down butter over low heat and skimming off the solids that will form. The result is a clear, yellow liquid with a nutty depth of flavor. Using this, or a combination of this and pan drippings/residue will take your tomato gravy to a whole new level of flavor.