WHISKEY GRAVY

BUFFALO HASH WITH WHISKEY GRAVY FOR BREAKFAST

There has been a lot of gravy-related trauma in my life. It started with Grandma. My grandmother was the worst cook of all time. Early on, her mother assumed her darling daughter would have servants when she established her own household. The idea that a lady might enter a kitchen for a reason other than to instruct the cook that there would be an additional guest at dinner would have sent Great-grandma Tierney into fits of vapors. However, in a flash of rebellion my grandmother married a poor farm boy from upstate New York.

The discovery that her new husband expected her to cook their meals must have shocked her as much as the revelation of what happens in the marriage bed. (She was a good Irish Catholic girl who didn’t know how God made babies until her second child was born and the doctor explained the connection between her “marital duties” and the appearance of children.  I doubt she ever did better than tolerate her wifely duties – any of them.)

Holidays were a nightmare, especially for Grandma who struggled to manage the entire turkey extravaganza on her own – turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and of course the gravy. I remember Grandpa sitting like an emperor at the head of the table performing the ritual of carving the bird (which was inevitably dry), after which the serving bowls containing overcooked vegetables were be passed around the table. Oh yes, and the gravy boat. The infamous gravy boat had been a wedding present from the groom’s parents. To Grandma the implication couldn’t be plainer. She was duty bound to produce gravy, and each year she gave it her best shot. But in the case of my family “gravy like Grandma used to make” consisted of lumpy, pasty flavorless glop. We all avoided the gravy boat, passing it to the person next to us without pouring anything until it had gone around the table a few times only to settle next to the butter dish, it’s contents solidifying. (My cousin Victoria who makes exquisite gravy is now keeper of Grandma’s gravy boat.)

My mom tried valiantly to overcome her upbringing but like many housewives of the ’50s she was convince that the secret of good gravy was a substance called Kitchen Bouquet, a dark brown sludge that added to drippings, flour, and cream was supposed to produce perfect gravy. It rarely did. Again, the family gravy boat sank like a stone under a tsunami of disappointment and frustration.

Enter the next generation. By the time I got married in the early ’60s I’d seen enough episodes of Julia Child’s ground-breaking cooking show to believe I had a pretty good handle on the whole gravy thing. Problem was I married a Southern man. Many of you reading this will know what I did not at the time: there’s Northern gravy and there’s Suth’n gravy. I wish someone had warned me before I said “I do” that when you marry into a Southern family you take an unspoken vow to make grits-n-gravy, and biscuits-n-gravy, gravy over toast, gravy over rice, gravy over potatoes, gravy on anything that doesn’t run away and hide. I was faced with a gravy array I never thought possible:  red-eye gravy, white gravy, bacon gravy, sausage gravy, and country gravy to name a few of the permutations. Who knew? The fact that I am no longer married will clue you to how well I adapted to the culture. I was an utter failure at the ritual of gravy. And grits? Don’t ask.

Now I come to this whiskey gravy thing. Last month it became legal to buy hard liquor in grocery stores in the State of Washington. I mentioned to a friend that I was considering buying a bottle of Scotch at Fred Meyer’s to celebrate our new freedom – not that I have ever been much of a drinker but I like the idea of freedom of choice. A bottle of Scotch would last me about as long as it takes whiskey to age – traditionally 3 years and a day. On my very next shopping trip I bought a bottle of Bushmills. That night my friend stopped by with a bottle of Jameson’s. My shot glass runeth over, thought I. Can’t get better than this, thought I. Until the next day when my cousin Eric dropped off a bottle of Concannon!

Enter, the buffalo. Freddy’s was running a sale on buffalo meat the same day I bought the Bushmills. I purchased a chunk of buffalo and braised the devil out of it all afternoon. One thing led to another (after a shot of Scotch, to be honest). For some obscure reason I thought it would be a super idea to make gravy with the juices.

Process: chopped an onion, sliced a cup of baby bella mushrooms – sautéed in lots of butter (“no such thing as too much butter”)  – 1T gluten-free flour to make a roux – added half a cup of Scotch and the buffalo juices – reduced it down by half – added salt and pepper and a dollop of sour cream. Damn, that stuff was so crazy-good, so frickin’ wonderful I didn’t know whether to eat it or dive in and do laps. I had broken the family gravy curse! The Scotch gravy went on a baked potato that first glorious night. The next morning for breakfast I heated up the hash I made with the buffalo leftovers, poured Scotch gravy over the top, and added toast to mop up every last gravy smear. Now if only I can manage to duplicate this miracle! For sure I still have plenty of whiskey to work with.  For now.

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