Several years ago I read an excellent article by one of my favourite TV chefs, Nigel Slater. It was about gravy with an understandable focus on the Sunday roast. He recounted tales from his childhood of his mother making “proper” gravy, starting with the meat juices, maybe cooking off a bit of veg in them (onion especially) then adding and cooking out some flour before straining some cooking liquor (usually veg water). What resulted was a sauce that was a natural accompaniment to the meat (whatever it happened to be) because the predominant flavour of that sauce was the meat itself. Slater described the gravy as “belonging” to the dish. Being a chef of course he also suggests a few possible “tweaks” to add even more character – roasting a couple of garlic cloves to squish into the sauce, a pinch of fresh herbs or even spices maybe, and dare we suggest a slug of wine? But the point being that, because of its origins, your sauce will still be a natural match, be a better enhancement to the dish and provide more enjoyment. It makes sense doesn’t it!
Crucially, it is also very easy to do. The meat has to rest for a bit, and you may have some roast potatoes to wait for so what better way to fill those spare few minutes than preparing the prefect sauce to compliment your roast? Given this, why is there a market for gravy granules? My bet is that most people have everything in their store cupboards to make the perfect gravy, yet people willingly spend money buying this superfluous culinary abomination to make a less good sauce. Why? Surely it can’t be because all you have to do is just add water? That’s essentially all you need to do to make gravy properly!
What worries me is that it’s not our cooking techniques which have become lazy as much as our tastebuds. As one well-known regional brewery says on its advertising (as a taunt to drinkers of bland eurofizz) “Afraid you might taste something Lagerboy?” Have decades of carvery lunches left our culture with an unnatural desire to cover all varieties of roast meats in a homogenised gloop because we’re frightened of real flavour?
Some wines encourage lazy tastebuds too. I’m thinking of the mass-produced, pleasant enough (hopefully) but entirely forgettable easy-to-drink anonymous hooch which was probably on a “half price” deal at the local supermarket. The customer is chuffed because they think they’ve got a deal, the producer is chuffed because, frankly, that’s the only way they’re going to shift it, and the supermarket doesn’t care as long as they get your money one way or another. If the vast spectrum of wines from all over the world could be compared to the seven colours of the rainbow then supermarket wine ranges tend to occupy about 10% of “green”. That’s the safe area right in the middle which doesn’t ask too many questions. Wine for the masses if you like, with flavours you won’t notice unless you’re really concentrating (which you won’t be – it was half price after all). The reds are bereft of any tannin to the point where UK palates now incorrectly seek to avoid it and the whites will have had a character bypass lest any flavour should offend anyone. These bottles are vinous equivalent of lift music or the Morris Ital – those with low expectations will be fine, everyone else with be either disappointed or annoyed. Possibly both.
Of course, we would say that wouldn’t we. After all, we have a more exciting range of wines made by people with passion and enthusiasm (as opposed to a clipboard and calculator) many of whom fly by the seat of their pants in their constant strivings for that extra bit of excellence. They want to make something you’ll notice and remember. You might have had to part with a quid or two more for the experience, but they (and we) want that extra to be worth it, after all, if we didn’t think it was we wouldn’t be selling the stuff in the first place would we! Generally speaking your extra quid or two goes on flavour and you’ll enjoy it all the more. It’s a bit like making your own gravy really, ditch the mediocre and go for something that you can have real pride in. It really isn’t that big a step you know.