The Art of Deglazing
I remember the first time I watched my mother-in-law making gravy. She took the lamb roast out to rest, added flour to the roasting pan, stirred it into all the juices, then poured on some stock which hissed and bubbled as she scraped the yummy sticky bits from the bottom of the pan, and the parts coalesced into a sleek and shiny gravy. It was magical! Imagine, gravy that didn't come out of a box.
That was my introduction to the mystical and wonderful cooking technique of deglazing. At its most basic, it is liquid added to a hot pan that has cooked, caramelized, even burnt bits of food stuck to it. By some amazing alchemy, a bit of stirring will cause all the burnt bits to unadhere from the bottom of the pan. This of course, makes it a brilliant cleaning technique for burnt bits on the bottom of pans. Do this immediately every time you use the frying pan, while it's still hot, and you will never have to scrub again, promise.
It's also a really fun cooking technique, because it makes lots of noise and steam, and incidentally, a useful way to preserve and add flavour to lots of dishes, not wasting any of those lovely caramelized, highly spiced bits at the bottom of the dish.
Cooking lean chicken which annoyingly sticks to the pan, and no matter how much oil you add, rips off the yummy golden cooked outside when you try to turn it over? Loosen it by pouring a little bit of cold water around the chicken before turning. It will help you flip the chicken, then bubble away to nothing.
Making tacos and burritos, and cross about all those delicious spices and half the garlic stuck to the bottom of the pan? Again, a bit of cold water poured on when the meat is cooked will loosen all that flavour and coat the meat instead, with a bit of stirring.
And then there are the dishes that require deglazing as a cooking technique. Above is a photo of tonight's Spaghetti alla Carbonara I am rather proud of - I took the photo while simultaneously pouring the cheap and nasty cooking sherry into the hot pan ('You're not actually going to drink that dear, are you?' the lady in the bottleshop asked anxiously..).
After sauteeing the garlic and the pancetta/bacon/or today's version, chorizo, you deglaze the pan with the nasty sherry. I love nasty sweet sherry. In cooking. Syrupy, with the salty chorizo. Yum. Anyway, do try the carbonara. It is our favourite version, but Nigella, one serve? Really? This amount feeds our whole family. Adjust the amount of spaghetti to whatever your family normally eats. We add wilted greens or peas for a 'vegetable'.
Now, for wonderful gravy - the classic deglazing sauce. First is the French jus. After cooking your meat, set it aside to rest. Pour most of the fat off (only really necessary for a roast), add a splash of stock or wine (or both). Stir all the bits up, season with salt and pepper. There you have the simplest gravy. To this you can add cream, Dijon mustard, maybe a little redcurrant jelly for a creamy sauce.
Now your English gravy. Again, pour excess fat away from the pan so you stay slim and beautiful (you do need some fat though, otherwise you will have gruel instead of gravy). A tablespoon of flour in the bottom of a mug. Add some of the fat and meat juices from the pan, and stir into a paste. Keep adding meat juices and stock until your mixture resembles hommus. Pop it back into the hot pan you cooked your meat in, stir and cook for a few minutes so your gravy won't taste like flour (I sometimes put the flour straight into the pan if there isn't much juice. If you put flour into a pan with lots of juices, it will just go lumpy). Congratulations, you have now made a roux - just like white sauce. But yummier.
Add stock little by little (deglazing, deglazing) and keep stirring over the heat until you have a mixture of a thick soup-like consistency (or a thin soup if you like thin gravy..). You will have as much gravy as there is stock, so keep adding it until you have enough for your dinner. You can add a splash of wine. Now bring the mixture to the boil, still stirring. Once it is boiling you can stop stirring. It will thicken slightly, from the flour. Season, and serve with a flourish in your favourite jug.
I have recently developed a vegetarian gravy as well. I'm sure lots of people have already discovered this, but humour me. First chop up an onion, a garlic clove, a couple of mushrooms. Sautee onions and mushrooms with a knob of delicious butter, or olive oil for vegan gravy. Cook slowly until caramelized, and add garlic towards the end. Remove the onion and mushrooms. You can add them to your dinner later, or eat them on toast for breakfast. Add another knob of butter to the pan (butter is very good for you), and brown it, golden, golden brown and foamy (keep the heat low, we don't want burnt bitter butter). Add a tablespoon of flour, and stir into the butter to make a roux, as above. Add stock, little by little again, stirring, deglazing those caramelized onion and mushroomy flavoured bits (remember, if you add a lot of liquid at once, your gravy will go lumpy). Follow the English gravy instructions above, and you will have a lovely, golden brown vegetarian gravy. I love to stir the mushrooms and onions back in at the end to eat on thick toasted ciabatta. With maybe a poached egg.. and a grilled tomato. Anyone?