All aboard the gravy train

Skinny pork chops with rice and gravy. Yummy.
Skinny pork chops with rice and gravy. Yummy.

Hey, who doesn’t want to be on the “gravy train?” Wait a minute, what exactly does that mean? Well, after conducting (is that a pun?) two entire minutes of rigorous research, I have learned that this idiom apparently has some connection with railroad workers in the 1920’s who reportedly used the phrase to describe a “run” with good pay and little work—in other words, big bucks with little effort.

The results of this research are troublesome for me, since I had originally thought that I might find some interesting information to add to my sage (yep, there’s another one…) advice on how to make really good gravy. Instead, I find myself reading about trains. Jeez.

Oh, and what about gravy boats? Where does that come from? Never mind, who cares. I didn’t even look. What we really need to care about is how to prepare some excellent gravy.

Okay, so what do we have on the menu here: let’s see, there’s beef gravy. Pork gravy. Creamy sausage gravy on biscuits. Giblet gravy. Red-eye gravy. And so it goes. I am salivating as I type.

This whole thing started, by the way, earlier this evening as I was warming up some rice and pork gravy for dinner, which happened to be leftovers from the skillet-fried, skinny pork chops that I prepared for a meal this past Saturday evening. (Skinny pork chops, as you see in the preceding photo, are a Southern favorite and, no, they will not make you skinny). Well, two things are clear here—in order to really appreciate, gravy, pork gravy in particular, one has to crave salt: pork and salt; salty bacon (i.e., salt and pork). I obviously do not suffer from high blood pressure—but I’m working on it.

Okay, deep breath—the general recipe for traditional gravy, as many of you know, is simply the combination of flour, milk, salt and pepper combined in appropriate ratios with the oils and remnants of pan-fried meat, all blended at exactly the right time and cooked at exactly the right level of heat. But producing a feather-light soufflé is no trickier than producing gravy of exactly the right consistency. Okay, maybe a little trickier—admittedly, I have never attempted to create a soufflé. Also, admittedly, I focus on the basics here: there are, of course, uncounted variations on theme, including the thinner, Cajun rouxs and the Italian buttery versions, for example.

Gravy worthy of its fine china gravy boat is most often made by people not unlike my wife long passed, Christy, who taught me how to make it and, like so many others, was first introduced to a black iron skillet by her mother as soon as she was of sufficient height to see the top of a stove. And experience is paramount, since determining the correct amount of ingredients is founded largely on instinct. Oh sure, there are recipes out there, but I never end up with the same amount of oil and stuff. So, then, it’s a pinch of this and a pinch of that. Anyway, with regard to my own experience, true success has been limited to “once in awhile,” or, optimistically, a batting average of about 500, in getting it just right: too thin, and it just leaks to the bottom of one’s plate; too thick and it sits on top of your starch of choice like a blob of brown tar.

Like a job on a gravy train, the preparation of excellent gravy doesn’t really require all that much work—and the payback is great. Nevertheless, we have all heard the old joke about how to get to Carnegie Hall: practice, practice, practice. Ditto for good gravy.

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    My Uncle said, “There is a spot in Heaven for the person who first cooked gravy”. Hope the same can be for those that enjoy gravy.

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