Food & Drink

Thanksgiving is less than a week away, make sure you're ready with special braised garlic and the perfect, easy gravy

Chopped parsley before it is stirred into a gravy as chef Joshua Tibbetts makes roasted garlic gravy at his home in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Chopped parsley before it is stirred into a gravy as chef Joshua Tibbetts makes roasted garlic gravy at his home in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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Thanksgiving is fast approaching, and I don’t know about you, but my social media feeds are starting to hit a rush hour traffic of “10 Turkey Roasting Hacks you never knew in Omaha” — because, for some reason, my cellphone thinks I live in Omaha.

So yeah, the turkey is always the big centerpiece — that make-or-break item that everyone judges. I’m certain you can find a hundred brilliant recipes for how to make the most perfect turkey ever. So instead, I’d like to focus on the supporting players in the background. Let’s make sure the Big Star has a solid supporting cast to back it up.

I don’t know about you, but I grew up on a budget. Dehydrated potato buds and powdered instant gravy packets were always there. Like most foods I experienced in childhood, I never knew I was missing anything until I was cooking in fine restaurants that made everything from scratch. Oh. My. Word. Feeling the depth of real potatoes, the silky umami of real gravy, I was unprepared for that.

You know how folks reminisce about Grandma’s home cooking? Well, even that is not what it used to be. Many of our grandmas grew up in the Eisenhower era after World War II. Coming out of the poverty of the Great Depression, cooking anything from scratch was seen as a burden, and the wonder of prefab canned goods was a show of status. Gravy in a can? Hey, we’ve made it! Climbed up another rung on the social ladder!

A lot of us have to dig back to our grandma’s grandma’s recipes to find real food — made the old way, from scratch. We have to make a leap of faith to appreciate the grace of homemade food. “Instant foods are perfect every time” is simply untrue. It’s consistent, the every time, but it doesn’t remotely approach perfect.

So, let’s go back to the old ways, and make everything real nice.

There are two things we need to look at: the quality of our technique, and the quality of our ingredients. Especially in simple recipes, you really want the best ingredients you can get your hands on. As a cook, you can coax the best flavors out of food, but you never actually add flavor. That’s where technique comes in — it’s your technique that preserves the good flavors that are already there. So do everyone a favor and buy your ingredients from a small family farm that’s putting a lot of love into what it grows. Holiday feasts are definitely the time to put that extra dime into the choices you make in the supermarket aisle or the farmers market.

Regarding technique, we’re going to go that extra mile here to coax every last bit of flavor out of these humble foods. We’re going to go beyond our ancestors here and focus on one of our most powerful tools in a modern kitchen: the digital scale.

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Like most professional chefs, I do all my recipes in weight, in metric grams, because I seriously don’t have the time to figure out ridiculous conversions. Make a seven times batch of 1 1/2 teaspoons? Umm ... Or we can make a 7 times batch of 7.5 grams? I have a calculator on my phone, and I put it on my first screen for quick access. Easy. Done.

I start with a recipe for Cream Braised Garlic. Roasted garlic is a common sight on restaurant menus these days. Most folks don’t realize that roasted garlic is usually just fried gently in oil, on the stovetop. “Oil poached” just doesn’t sell quite as well as “roasted,” although the effect is essentially the same.

This variant on roasted garlic goes a step further than the expected, common method. The addition of cream in the slow roast helps defuse the sulfites that give garlic its pungency. This transforms the flavor from sharpness into roundness and depth. This recipe is a slow cooker. It’s in limbo: “How low can you go? How slow can you go?”

Find a small pan, like a 4-by-6-inch loaf pan or a 6-inch fry pan with a metal handle to make it.

I use a very flexible recipe, eyeballing the quantities to fit the pan I’m cooking in. I like to make a large batch, and then use it like a condiment when preparing recipes later in the week. If I make a lot of it, I’ll freeze off the finished puree in an ice cube tray. We tend to go through it pretty quick in our house. It goes well in gravies, mashed potatoes, marinara, soup, aioli — anywhere you would use garlic, just add a spoonful of this instead.

Next we’ll make a roux. A roux is the traditional way to thicken gravy and other sauces, and you can make this ahead.

Warning: Making roux is a bit of a process that requires careful attention. The good news is that you can prep ahead and make a bigger batch of it all at one time and then freeze it off in an ice cube tray. Just pull out a cube or two as you need it in the future.

A fish spatula is the perfect tool for this recipe. The slots in it allow it to act as a whisk, and the oddly curved edges allow it to get into both the sharp corners of a sauce pan and the soft curved edges of a saute pan.

Next we will make the gravy, which will require your full attention.

But remember, have fun playing in the kitchen. And don’t forget that dance music. Everything’s easier when you’re dancing.

Now let’s get cooking!

Recipes

Cream Braised Garlic

Find a small pan, like a 4x6 inch loaf pan or a 6-inch fry pan with a metal handle.

This is a very flexible recipe. You eyeball the quantities to fit the pan you are cooking in.

Fresh garlic, 5 or 6 large whole bulbs

Extra-virgin olive oil, less than 1 cup

Heavy cream, less than 1 cup

Fresh sage leaves, half a 0.75-ounce package (optional)

Salt, none: not yet!

De-stem sage leaves if you are using them and layer the bottom of your pan.

Peel garlic cloves out of their papery skins and make a single even layer across bottom of pan.

Gently pour some oil in until garlic is two-thirds covered. (You might not use the full cup.)

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Top off the garlic with cream — the garlic should be just barely covered by the oil and cream.

Don’t add any salt yet! Salt and heat will make the cream curdle.

Cover baking dish tightly with foil. Roast on low heat, 250 degrees, until garlic is easily mashed with fork. This typically takes about 2 hours. The good news is, it requires no attention while slow cooking. Just set a timer.

When garlic is soft, puree everything in a blender or food processor. Blend it until it’s as smooth as MC Hammer’s footwork.

After it is pureed, salt to taste.

Roux

A roux is the traditional way to thicken gravy and other sauces and can be made ahead.

A fish spatula is a perfect tool for this recipe. The slots in it allow it to act as a whisk, and the oddly curved edges allow it to get into both the sharp corners of a saucepan, and the soft curved edges of a Saute Pan.

Note: Weight is very important here. That’s why the digital scale is so nice for this. Flour can be real tricky to measure because it expands in humidity. So 3/4 cup of flour in the winter is about the same as 1 cup of flour in the summer. This is why people think baking is magic. It’s not magic. Use weights instead of volumes, and you just dropped some mad science on this recipe.

1 part by weight unsalted butter

1 part by weight all purpose flour (I usually use unenriched, unbleached flour)

Melt the butter in a sautee pan over medium low heat.

When it is just barely melted, add the flour and whisk it vigorously (don’t be shy, you can just dump it all in at once.) When it’s all mixed in, it should look like wet sand.

Shake the pan a little bit without stirring, and the sandy mix should smooth out like a very thick gravy.

If you don’t have a scale, and you are eyeballing it, these are things to notice: if it doesn’t smooth out, it needs a little more butter, if it doesn’t stiffen into a sandy mix when you stir it, it needs a little more flour.

Stir it gently, but frequently.

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Listen to the roux while it’s cooking. Has it gone quiet? Then you should probably stir it more, get it “talking” again.

Smell the roux. After a while, it will start to take on a “nutty” aroma. Once it gets nutty then it’s bound together and good to go. This is called a blonde roux

If you want a deeper, darker flavor to your gravy, you can keep cooking the roux until it takes on a golden brown color. That slightly darkened roux is nice with poultry gravies like chicken or rurkey. Blonde or golden: choose your own adventure.

Gravy 1:8 Ratio

Drippings from your roast

broth or milk

Roux

One of the trickiest parts about making gravy is trying to figure out how much thickener to add to your drippings, broth or milk. The ratio in this recipe takes the stress and guesswork out of it. One part finished roux perfectly thickens 8 parts of drippings or milk.

Put together the wet ingredients: Broth, milk or cream to drippings from a roast, until you have roughly as much gravy as you will want.

Get these wet ingredients warmed up, but not quite boiling.

Weigh the wet (liquids) in grams, or measure it in mL. (Fun fact: 1 g = 1 mL for nonfat liquids.)

Wet divided by 8 is your finished roux weight (or 9 or 10 for a runnier gravy) Example: for 350 mL milk, [350] / [8] = 43.75 g roux.

Weigh out that roux and put it in a saucepan

Make sure everything else in your life is going to be stable for the next 5 minutes. This process will require some attention. Stay tuned in. Put some nice upbeat dance music on and get into the groove.

When your wet and your roux are both warmed up, slowly add a little wet to the roux, and whisk it a lot.

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As you add the wet, the roux will look very loose, then suddenly start to look like mashed potatoes.

When it starts to look like a firm mash, add more wet and keep that whisk moving!

Repeat the process: Add wet, whisk, notice the change.

When you get about halfway through the wet, it will start to look like very thick gravy. That’s OK. You’ve moved beyond the looks-like-mash stage. Just whisk it smooth before moving on.

That’s it. Once you’ve added all the wet, it will be perfectly thickened. A 1:8 Gravy won’t keep thickening more as it’s kept warm and covered on low heat. That’s all the magic the roux is going to work.

If you want to get Extra, add a pinch of nutmeg or fresh herbs like thyme or minced rosemary or flat leaf parsley.

Season with salt and pepper to taste. This gravy will take up to 1.5 percent it’s weight in salt, before it starts to taste salty. Unless your doctor had forbidden it, I’d advise going the full 1.5 percent. That’s how the bitter flavors transform into deep savory flavors, by having enough salt.

If you want to go even more Extra for that over-the-top holiday decadence, add a couple pats of butter and stir them in until they are just barely melted. Trust me, every restaurant does this. It’s pure magic.

And the most Extra you can add to your easy, ordinary gravy? Add a few spoonfuls of that milk braised garlic.

Chef Tibbs, also known as Joshua “Tibbs” Tibbetts, is a Cedar Rapids native who has been cooking as a professional chef for 28 years. He is now in the banquet kitchen at DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Cedar Rapids Convention Complex.

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.