Gravies are not often required either in great variety, or in abundant quantities, when only a moderate table is kept, and a clever cook will manage to supply, at a trifling cost, all that is generally needed for plain family dinners; while an unskilful or extravagant one will render them sources of unbounded expense.* But however small the proportions in which they are made, their quality should be particularly attended to, and they should be well adapted in flavour to the dishes they are to accompany. For some, a high degree of savour is desirable; but for fricassees, and other preparations of delicate white meats, this should be avoided, and a soft, smooth sauce of refined flavour should be used in preference to any of more piquant relish.
Instead of frying the ingredients for brown gravies, which is usually done in common English kitchens, French cooks pour to them at first a small quantity of liquid, which is reduced by rapid boiling to what is technically called glaze; particular directions for which will be found in the next receipt to this, and also at pages 43 and 90. When the glaze has acquired the proper colour, boiling broth should be added in small portions, and well shaken round the stewpan to detach it entirely; the meat may then be stewed gently for three or four hours with a few mushrooms, should they be at hand, a bunch of parsley, and some green onions.
* We know of an instance of a cook who stewed down two or three pounds of beef to make gravy for a single brace of partridges; and who complained of the meanness of her employers (who were by no means affluent) because this was objected to.
A thick slice or two of an unboiled ham is an almost indispensable addition to rich soup or gravy; and to supply it in the most economical manner, a large, highly cured one, or more, not over fatted, should be kept for the purpose, and cut as required. The bones of undressed meat will supply almost, or quite as good gravy-stock as the meat itself, if well boiled down, particularly those of the loin, or neck of veal: and as the flesh of these may be dressed in many ways advantageously without them, the whole joint may be turned to excellent account by so dividing it.
The necks of poultry, with the feet properly skinned, a few herbs, a morsel or two of ham or of lean bacon, and such slight flavourings beside as the spice-box can supply, with a few drops of good mushroom catsup, will of themselves, if well managed, produce sufficient gravy to serve with the birds from which they are taken; and if not wanted for the purpose, they should always be stewed down, or thrown into the stock-pot, for which the shank-bones of legs of mutton, and all trimmings of meat should likewise be reserved. Excellent broth for the sick or for the needy, may also be made of them at little cost, when they are not required for other uses.
To deepen the colour of gravies, the thick mushroom pressings of Chapter V (Store Sauces)., or a little soy (when its flavour is admissible), or cavice, or Harvey's sauce* may be added to it; and for some dishes, a glass of claret, or of port wine.
Vermicelli, or rasped cocoa-nut, lightly, and very gently browned in a small quantity of butter, will both thicken and enrich them, if about an ounce of either to the pint of gravy be stewed gently in it from half an hour to an hour, and then strained out.
All the ingredients indicated at page 39, for giving consistency to soups, will answer equally for gravies, which should not, however, be too much thickened, particularly with the unwholesome mixture of flour and butter, so commonly used for the purpose. Arrow-root, or rice-flour, or common flour gradually browned in a slow oven, are much better suited to a delicate stomach. No particle of fat should ever be perceptible upon them when they are sent to table; and when it cannot be removed by skimming, they should be allowed to become sufficiently cold for it to congeal, and be taken off at once without trouble. It may be cleared from such as have not been thickened, by passing them through a closely woven cloth, which has previously been laid into, and well wrung from, some cold water.