Banishing lumps from your gravy

Ask the Chef

Sunday Gourmet

January 04, 2004|By Jim Coleman and Candace Hagan | Jim Coleman and Candace Hagan,Knight Ridder / Tribune

My family loves gravy with most of the things I make. Are there any tips that you have for avoiding lumps that sometimes occur when I make gravy?

I assume you are talking about good old pan gravy like my mom used to make.

You probably remember someone in your family mixing together a little flour and water to thicken those wonderful pan juices produced by roast beef or chicken. That seems like a good idea, and there's nothing wrong with flour and water; it's just that some things are fine on their own but wrong when they're put together. Like Bruce Springsteen and Cher sharing a stage.

The point is, if you're mixing flour and water with your pan juices, you will have to take your lumps.

Now if you want to use flour, it's best to make what is called a roux, which is a mixture of flour and some kind of fat, usually butter.

A roux is cooked over low heat for three to five minutes to remove the flour aftertaste, and then it can be added to soup or even your pan juices to make gravy.

If you'd rather use water, there is another preparation used to thicken pan juices that I think is an easier way to go. You make what is called a slurry, which is water (or another liquid) mixed with a starch like cornstarch or arrowroot, and then add that to your pan juices. A good rule of thumb for slurry is to use equal parts of the liquid and starch.

If you use one of these methods, I predict that your lumps will disappear. (Remember, you still need to stir or whisk your gravy and bring it to a boil. It needs a little tough love.)

Of course, I couldn't leave you without mentioning one of the more time-honored ways to remove lumps from gravy. Just buy a superfine strainer and strain them out -- but do it with the kitchen door closed.

Can you suggest a great marinade for grilled striped bass filets?

Been doing a little fishing off the shore, have we?

If you have wonderful, fresh striped bass, I suggest you keep your marinade pretty simple, because I wouldn't want you to lose any of that awesome, delicate flavor.

The recipe that I am sharing has quite a bit of lemon juice, which is a natural for fish, but it also will begin to "cook" the fish if you marinate it too long. Leave the fish in the marinade for no more than 20 to 30 minutes. Also, make sure you marinate your fish in resealable baggies and try to get all the air out of the bags so the marinade will penetrate the fish more effectively.

Striped Bass Marinade

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 shallot, finely chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

fresh coarsely ground black pepper, to taste

grated zest of 1 lemon

pinch of salt

Mix all ingredients and use immediately. Place the marinade with four 6- to 8-ounce portions of the fish of your choice in a resealable plastic bag and put in the refrigerator for 20 to 30 minutes. The marinade can be used for basting until the last few minutes of grilling.

Jim Coleman is the executive chef at the Rittenhouse Hotel, Philadelphia, the author of three cookbooks and the host of two nationally syndicated cooking shows -- A Chef's Table on NPR, and Flavors of America on PBS. His wife, Candace Hagan, is a food writer.

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