Everywhere we look we see more and more fattening foods entering the market; from fast food freak shows to recipes designed to get you into the grave faster. Why, in a day when more and more people are leaning towards healthier diets, are we continuing to see the invent of such artery clogging, waistline exploding “foods”? Well, the simple, yet sad, truth is, that’s what the public is asking for.
I wouldn’t believe it myself if I weren’t a food and drink writer. I’ve seen the evidence in the attention each article and recipe I publish gets. Articles and recipes about healthy eating or healthy foods tend not to be as popular as articles and recipes that feature less-healthy foods… like bacon.
This was only mildly irritating to me until recently, when watching a clip of Good Eats with Alton Brown on Hulu, I saw the food science man himself demonstrate a way to make gravy that not only was horribly unhealthy, but the science was wrong.
Yes, you may now pick yourself back up off the floor. It may be considered sacrilege to some, but I just said that Alton Brown’s science was wrong. What he said about the flavor was wrong too. To watch the clip click here.
This demonstration shows the fat not only being put back into the gravy after it’s been separated out, but promotes the idea that it’s a structural ingredient, hence necessary. You may watch that and say, “Wait. What’s wrong with that? That’s the way I was taught to make gravy.”
The truth is, the fat isn’t required to make a great gravy. In fact, it’s been my experience that the fat gets in the way of both the flavor and the composition of a good, smooth gravy. Don’t believe me? Take a roast, of any type, and roast it in your oven. Take the drippings then separate out the fat. Next, take a sip of the liquids. Good, right? Now, take a sip of the fat.
What? Straight? Yes, straight. Take a sip of that roast fat straight from the separation, in it’s normal form. You don’t want to? Why not? If so much of the flavor of the gravy comes from the fat then the straight fat should taste great, right? The liquids did.
One of the most common myths about meat fat is that it’s where all the flavor is. In reality that special, almost addictive flavor comes from the caramelization of the fat, not the fat in bulk. When you separate out the liquids from the fat, the majority of the caramelization naturally goes with the liquids. Caramelized fat has been changed on a molecular level and is heavier than than un-caramelized fat, so it sinks into the liquid part of the drippings from your roast. When you skim out the fat you skim out the unhealthy and flavorless part. By not returning the floating fat to your gravy you not only make it low-fat, you also make it taste better to.
A low-fat gravy that doesn’t use the floating, non-caramelized fat will have a more powerful, more intense taste. This allows you to add healthier things to expand your low-fat gravy recipe, like wine, fat-free broth, or even water.
But, how do we tackle the issue of the rue in a low-fat gravy? Alton says we need the fat to make the rue that thickens the gravy. This is where his science is actually wrong. The flour doesn’t need to be suspended in fat to keep it from clumping, or to make a gravy that’s nice and smooth but also low-fat. It isn’t what you add the flour to that has these effects, it’s how you add it.
Alton says to whisk the flour into the fat to make your rue. You can also whisk the flour into the low-fat liquids to do this. The trick is to remove the liquids from the heat while you’re doing the whisking. To be honest, I don’t use a whisk. To me that’s too much work for the same results I can get from a blender or a hand mixer.
Creating a ‘cold rue’ is another way to get good results in a low-fat gravy. Alton was right when he said the flour needs to be suspended before it cooks to get good results, but there are other ways of doing it.
If you’re adding wine, low-fat broth, or another cool low-fat liquid simply whisk the flour into that before you add it to the gravy. If you add it during the reduction step when the fat is still in it, simply set aside a small portion, 1/2-1 cup and make a rue from that. After you separate out the fat, whisk your cold-rue into the gravy instead of straight flour. Your gravy will thicken nicely and smoothly without making an artery clogging mess.
Another drawback to using the fat in your gravy is that it will make your gravy separate as it cools. The fat will separate from the gravy no matter what, whether there’s flour in it as a binding agent or not. This can be seen in the way cold gravy gets that crackled, oily look on top. Those cracks are filled with clarified fat that has pushed aside the rest of the gravy as it floats to the top. It’s instinct to just mix it back in when we re-heat it for our leftovers.
A good, low-fat gravy isn’t hard to make, and is usually going to taste better than the old-fashion heat-attack in a ladle kind. This is one of many, many examples of how low-fat foods can not only better for your but also taste better.
So, why did Alton do it? One word: ratings. Deep down the American public wants foods that aren’t good for them because they think it must taste better. This is seen in what we buy at stores and in restaurants, and what we search for online. I don’t blame Alton. Not one little bit. Most of the time he’s right, and gives great advice. Promoting one thing that is, technically, Foodie Blasphemy doesn’t make him a bad man, or wrong about the other things he talks about. If it weren’t for Alton Brown my husband still wouldn’t be able to do the grocery shopping on his own.
Truth be told, I am just as guilty. I’ve allowed page-views and article ratings to convince me to publish things that made my conscience weep. I’m not going to abstain from publishing recipes that involve things like bacon, don’t worry. But, I am adding a new criteria to my decision making process about articles and recipes. If I won’t eat it, I won’t publish it. That’s my promise to you.
Happy Holidays, folks! And Happy low-fat gravy making too!