Recently I was contacted by the folk responsible for promoting British onions. To be honest, I was a little surprised that such a product should be in need of any form of promotion and was interested to discover an entire website devoted to this most humble of vegetables.
Humble, maybe. Indispensible, certainly. Barely a day goes by in which I don't chop and onion to begin the base of a soup, stew, pie or roast. If I run out, I panic. Without onions, I am somewhat lost in the kitchen. To me, they are a vital flavour-adding essential which forms the bases of so many dishes I prepare.
Onions grow extremely happily here in the UK and buying British is something I try to do whenever possible. The British Onion people were kind enough to send me a box full of onions and challenged me to produce my perfect recipe for onion gravy. Along with a plentiful supply of onions, they included some storecupboard staples which I might like to use in my gravy. I was also encouraged to include my own 'secret' ingredients if it pleased me.
The challenge made me smile as it made me think of my husband who, given the choice, would have gravy with everything. Whilst I couldn't contemplate a Sunday roast without gravy and I do love a rich onion gravy with my sausages, I don't feel the need to have gravy with every piece of meat or pie that comes out of the kitchen. My other half does. Even shepherd's pie which to me seems most peculiar as it is essentially meat simmered in 'gravy' with potato on top.
So. I knew this challenge would make him happy. A very unscientific straw-poll amongst friends revealed that everyone has their own idea of the perfect gravy. Some like it thick, some like it thin. Some like it pale and some like it dark and glossy. Some like 'bits' in it. Some prefer it smooth. Which sort should I make?
I decided to please myself and make gravy in the way I most enjoy it. But then again I was stumped. The type of gravy I like with a roast chicken (pale, quite thin and made mainly with roasting juices, a splash of white wine and a touch of redcurrant jelly) is totally different to the gravy I like to pour over my sausages (thick, dark and glossy with lots of onions). How to decide what to make?
In the end, I present you with two gravies. One is the kind of gravy I make when I'm roasting meat - in this case, beef. The other is a rich onion gravy I made to serve with venison sausages and mash. Both were delicious. Both involved British onions. One used the onions as in a 'supporting role'. The other is entirely about the onions.
Firstly though, you might be interested to see inside that box...
There were familar ingredients I turn to regularly for gravy-making: Worcestershire sauce, Marmite and tomato sauce. There was also a pot of English mustard and an intriguing jar of mushroom ketchup. Sadly, I'm no longer able to eat mushrooms so this is something my husband will be experimenting with at a later date. I bet it would add an excellent savoury quality to the gravy though.
So first up, we have a plate of sausage and mash....
2 red onions
1 tbsp olive oil
2 small knobs of butter
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp Marmite
1 scant tbsp plain flour
350ml boiling water
1 tsp redcurrant jelly
1. Cut onions in half and slice. Heat oil and small knob of butter in a heavy-duty casserole dish. Add onions and sugar and sweat for a few minutes until just starting to soften.
2. Place lid on the casserole and continue to cook onions on a fairly low heat for around 15 minutes until really soft and sticky. Aga-users might like to do this in the roasting oven, rather than on the top.
3. Boil the kettle and pour approx 350ml boiling water over the Marmite and mix together to create 'stock'. Sprinkle flour over the sticky onions and stir well to incorporate. Gradually add the Marmite stock a little at a time, stirring well to combine after each addition and bubbling on quite a high heat. You may not need to add it all, you may need to add a little more, depending on how thick you like your gravy.
4. Add the redcurrant jelly and season well with salt and pepper. Bubble away for a 5 minutes and adjust seasoning to taste. If it seems too sweet for your liking, add a little Worcestershire sauce. If not sweet enough, add more redcurrant jelly.
6. Pour into a jug and pour liberally over sausages and mash!
This is the method I use most often. In this instance I was making gravy to accompany roast beef, but I've included alternatives for other roast meats...
Once the meat is cooked, set aside to rest on a carving board, covered in foil.
Pour excess fat out of roasting tin (leave around 1 tbsp along with the juices) and set on top of the hob on a medium-high heat. Sprinkle over a tablespoon or so of flour and mix into the fat and juices, taking care to scrape up all the sticky bits from the bottom of the tin.
Add a good splash of wine. White for chicken, turkey, pheasant or pork. Red for red meats and other game. Bubble away, stirring and scraping all the while.
Next add stock. Often I will use water from the vegetables mixed with the relevant stock cube for this. If a poultry joint came with giblets, I boil these up whilst the bird is cooking to create a flavoursome stock.
Add stock slowly, stirring well between each addition. Quantity will depend on how much juice came from the roast and how many people you are serving. For this beef joint, I used about 400ml stock for four of us.
Once stock is added, add the 'extras'. For interest, this is a very rough guide to what I add depending on the joint:
Beef - 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce or 1tsp dark soy sauce, 1 tsp tomato ketchup and a 1/2 tsp of English mustard.
Lamb - 1 tsp Marmite and 1 heaped tsp redcurrant jelly
Chicken and feathered game, including duck - 1 tsp redcurrant jelly and 1 splash Worcestershire sauce
Vension - 2 tsp redcurrant jelly and splash Worcestershire sauce
Pork - 1 tsp Marmite, pinch dried sage
These additions are all dependent on taste. I always taste as I go and add a little of this or a little of that depending on what I feel it needs. If the gravy tastes bland, I add a little more of something! Remember to season with plenty of salt and pepper.