A church to which I once belonged assembled a cookbook and asked all members to contribute their favorite recipes.Â Knowing the longevity of such books, my Mother wisely warned me not to submit recipes that contained the phrase, “open a can of . . .” She said it would haunt me for the rest of my days.
Instead, a safe and classic recipe to have attached to your name for perpetuity should begin with enticing, mouthwatering words.Â Something like . . .Â “First, you make a roux.”
I took her advice, submitted our family’s treasured “Shrimp and Smoked Sausage” recipe, and years later, I’m still getting complements.
Roux is the staple of many good Gulf Coast culinary creations, and yet there are still wonderful cooks who fear it, anticipating great complications.Â But if you’ve grown up clinging to the apron of an experienced cook, and you own a good cast iron skillet, (and bless your heart if you don’t) then you too, can “do a roux.”
Some etoufees, sauces, gravies and of course, our beloved gumbo, all start with a roux, so along with making a good hushpuppy, new cooks along the Gulf Coast are taught the art of the roux early on.
The first lesson I ever had in the kitchen, was to always close the silverware drawer before cracking an egg. I wasn’t allowed back in the kitchen for a long time after that, but when I was finally permitted to return for the second lesson, I learned to make a roux.
Gulf Coast cooks will vary the basics of oil vs. butter depending on the color and depth of the roux. But once you get the hang of it, and the correct rhythm; heat, heat –stir, stir –whisk, whiskÂ . . . magic begins.Â And one more requirement – you can’t be colorblind.Â “Blonde, copper and brunette” don’t refer to the charming belles on the front porch.
Knowing all about roux, I was somewhat surprised to hear of an old recipe using a roux that was new to me.Â It’s something that good, southern, country – women have cooked forever, and yet it had somehow escaped me.
Ever heard of Tomato Gravy?
At a family reunion, the wife of a second cousin once removed, and my Aunt were talking about pouring tomato gravy over biscuits. Why had I never heard of tomato gravy? I asked them how it was made and they looked at me like I had just asked how to whistle Dixie.Â What planet was I from?
I marched straight over to Mother and asked how she could have made such an error in raising me.Â She said my Daddy had never really liked Tomato Gravy, so like many other good things, the man’s preferences dominated the menu, and the legacy of the sauce in my family had died.
I hurried home and started researching tomato gravy, only to find that it is basically a roux with diced tomatoes thrown in. Seriously?Â That seemed too simple to be any good.Â Sometimes the butter or oil is replaced or enhanced with finger –snappin’ – good, and cholesterol – enhancing bacon grease.Â Mmmm.
This is the kind of dish you don’t need a recipe for, so it won’t ever make the pages of a church cookbook, and forget about it ever being in the Junior League books. Tomato gravy is in the same category as Jell-O or grits. You should just instinctively know how to make it.
I gave the tomato gravy a try and ate it over hot biscuits, and I loved it. My family did too, except for one picky teenager who doesn’t like to eat anything red except for M&M’s, but he’s not normal.
Now I have a new topping for biscuits and a new reason to love a good roux.
Which goes to show you, everything old is “roux” again!
*This story first appeared in the Gulf Coast Newspapers.
Click HERE to see my friend Rhoda’s recipe and photos for tomato gravy.
When I first saw the title, First, make a roux, I was like…. geez has she ever tried to make a roux. Then of course you have. I still have not mastered it. Anyway, I will try, try again. Side note – because you are a professional writer, I have always been leary to leave comments and re-read them like a zillion times. Anywho… I think I caught you…complement. I would like to compliment your recipes. If I am wrong, i stand corrected and still will feel “dumb” with every comment I leave. Love you and your blog! It is such a great complement to my day. Giggle, giggle.
Oh, don’t worry about typing a mistake, I do it all the time! You tell such great stories, your blog is always fun to read – not to mention your connection with one of my favorite poems! Thanks for the nice words. It’s good to have things to smile about!
I had to laugh when I read this, especially the part where the man’s taste dictates the menu. How true that statement is! I, like you, had never heard of tomato gravy until I met my man…it was required that before we married, I had to learn to make it from his mom. I did and I also wondered why we had never had it growing up…it turned out that my mother had never heard of it either. It’s a big job to cook the bacon, biscuits, eggs and tomato gravy, but we do still make it occasionally whenever the hubby’s brothers come to visit. Oh, and whatever you do, don’t ever try to make it more healthy by using olive oil–yuck. Yes, I tried.
Thanks for the warning, because that sounds like something I would eventually try!
Well finally! I have always heard of this mysterious Tomato Gravy. Mysterious because no one could ever provide me with a recipe. Just vague comments of “oh, just add some tomatoes to gravy”. Not enough information for me to waste time on a dish that would surely be thrown out. Now with a real recipe I will certainly give it a try and grits with it sound good too.
Thanks for a great blog.
That’s how the best dishes are always made, a little of this and a dash or pinch of that. No measurements at all.
This sounds delicious and once my bounty of tomatoes from the garden kicks into over-drive this is something I will try….actually I may not be able to wait!
I hope you’ll like it!
Amazing that you didn’t eat tomato gravy when you were growing up. Better late(r) than never.
I, too, read and re-read my comments ’cause you are a professional.
Ha! I’m such a terrible speller, if the computer doesn’t catch it, my friend Rachel usually emails me and tells me I’ve made a mistake! (She’s edited books before and I ask her to do it!).
Great post! I literally chuckled out loud at the reference to cracking an egg over an open silverware drawer! I can only imagine how that turned out! 🙂 Roux is a new one for me, never heard of it. As for tomato gravy, I do love it over grits or rice… one of my favorite meals! I’ll have to try it over a biscuit, sounds yummy!
By the way, how did the book reading go? ~Rhonda
That egg cracking story is true! It was a huge mess. As for the reading, it went great. Very big crowd for Harper Lee’s book, and everyone was buzzing with their thoughts surrounding the publishing. I’ll have to give an update, but I didn’t get many photos. Thanks for asking!
Tomato gravy is one of my all-time favorite breakfast foods.
That must be why you’re so pretty.
I’ve learned to leave the roux making to my fabulous son-in-law who counts among his many talents a deep understanding of all things culinary as taught to him by his trained chef grandfather. I just step back, watch the magic happen and enjoy the results!
That’s a good thing to look for in a son-in-law. I want my future daughter-in-law to have a love and natural talent for doing my laundry.