Making gravy, at least in my mind, is an almost lost art. Nowadays we are inundated with exotic sauces of all kinds with new methods of cooking and presentation and some of us spend hours watching so-called celebrity cooks trying to outdo each other with outlandish foreign foods that are picked for their presentation impact rather than their food or nutrient value.
At home my favourite “Company” dinner involves an ancient cast-iron Dutch oven, which may contain any number of meaty ingredients such as sausages, thick-cut pork chops, round steak or just plain stew meat but whatever it may be, the pot always contains lots of satisfying, full-bodied gravy. Generally, the contents have been gently simmered on the back of the stove for an hour or two and all the wonderful food flavours have come together to form a superb tasting broth. The rest of the meal is totally secondary to the contents of the main pot that is transferred directly from stove to table. It is in itself a conversation piece.
On a river camping trip a good portion of the menu entails the same type of cookery except that a much lighter pot is substituted for the heavy Dutch oven used at home. Gravy is also the subject of the following story.
In the mid-nineties I took a couple in their early sixties on a five-day powerboat trip from Whitehorse to Dawson City. It was to be a semi-wilderness trip if I may describe it as such. The trip called for a mere two days of outdoor camping with the rest of the nights split between genuine log cabin accommodation and hotel rooms.
When I prep a trip such as this, I pre-cook some of the dinner items and freeze them well in advance so that refrigeration isn’t a problem. This was an easy trip from a cook’s point of view as, aside from the breakfast and midday snacks it called for only two camp-cooked dinners. For one of them I chose my favourite “Bangers & Mash.” This combines pre-cooked beef sausages, onions and mushrooms in a gravy with a mashed mixture of fresh boiled spuds, cabbage, carrots & onions. Gravy, once frozen does not heat up very well so I leave the thickening until the time I use the meal.
On the fourth evening we were camped in a wonderful sheltered spot just below Fort Selkirk. After exploring the historic town site we came back to camp and sat for a time watching the waning sunlight bounce off the black basalt bluffs on the opposite shore. When dinnertime rolled around I emptied the container of “Bangers” into a deep frying pan. All it needed was heating up and the addition of a gravy thickener. In a second pot I peeled, cut and sliced the remainder of the ingredients.
I was using a single-burner naphtha stove. This requires the constant juggling of the two pots. You can bring one to a boil, set it aside and heat up the second one as the first one continues to cook – you get the idea. I thickened the gravy a bit too soon so that I got out of sync and had to periodically add more moisture to the frying pan to prevent the gravy from boiling away or burning. Rather than add cold water, I simply tipped the pot that the rest of the meal was cooking in and used the already hot water to thin down the contents of the frying pan. My clients were enjoying an extended cocktail hour so I repeated this exercise a number of times before dinner was served.
The meal and particularly the gravy was a rousing success. The accidentally enhanced gravy had acquired an aroma and a taste to die for and make-up of its ingredients became the main topic of conversation for the remainder of the trip. When parting in Whitehorse several days later the last conversation I had with them involved the gravy.
“Don’t forget to send me the recipe,” she implored.
Now how was that again? You get a single burner-naphtha stove and two pots……… I never did get to writing it down beyond what I’ve just told you.