White gravy is a staple of Southern cooking. In the South and Southwest we use it to top everything from biscuits to French-Fries. Every family has its own unique method of making Gravy, and most families will tell you theirs is the best gravy ever made. (They’re all right, by the way. It’s a family thing.)
Then of course, there’s the stuff you get in restaurants across the country. In the South and Southwest it’s pretty close to what’s made in homes all across the area but once you start moving North, the story changes. The gravy starts turning into a floury-tasting ooze with all the culinary soul of preschool paste. This affront to gravy is usually made from a pouch or bag by someone who has never had real Southern gravy and has probably never cooked anything for themselves at home.
Some companies have obviously noted that this foul mix needs more attention. I’ve seen it labeled as “Southern style with ham” in which tiny bits of processed ham are added in an attempt to mask the utter blandness of it all, and I’ve seen the same done with bacon and sausage.
It doesn’t help, it’s still awful and there’s no getting away from that. It’s usually too thin. It sets up like mortar if not eaten promptly, and is usually used to hide even worse attempts at biscuits or other southern staples.
So restaurant owners, listen up and let me tell you how to do it right! I was raised on white gravy, and I just can’t take it any more!
You may wonder why I call this restaurant style gravy. Well, I’ll tell you. True southern gravy is a pan gravy, usually made with grease, fat or lard. This recipe uses butter, which can be done but is not – in my opinion – home style gravy. I’ll instruct Y’all in that delicacy on another day.
If you’re from the North or Northwest, try this first, it will get you prepared for the real goodness of home style gravy that is to come.
This version is based on the classic béchamel, but with distinct differences, so pay attention class!
The restaurant version of a true Southern staple
- 5 tbsp. unsalted butter
- 4 tbsp. all purpose flour
- Approximately 2 cups milk (vitamin D milk, not skim, fat-free, fat-less, or other, and nothing heavier, it won’t work.)
- Freshly ground black pepper
Melt butter over low heat in a small saucepan. Add flour and combine. Add ¼ tsp salt and around 10 grinds pepper.
Stir until the flour is about the color of peanut butter and smells nutty. Add ½ of the milk and increase heat to medium.
Allow to come to a simmer, stirring constantly to avoid sticking. On the first run, the gravy is likely to nearly seize, be ready with more milk.
Add milk by quarter or half cups until gravy has thickened considerably. If using a whisk you’ll know the gravy is ready when drawing the whisk through the gravy leaves “tracks” from the wires that remain visible for at least 5 seconds.
Add at least 10 more grinds pepper and another pinch of salt, to taste.
If you like your gravy with a kick, feel free to add a dash of cayenne powder or ground chili. You may also add cooked sausage, cooked bacon or ham if desired.
Enjoy. This is the good stuff.