Alibi V.15 No.52 • Dec 28-Jan 3, 2006 

Ask Chef Boy Ari

A Saucy Rejoinder

... On a slow boat to Gravy Town, baby!
... On a slow boat to Gravy Town, baby!

Dear Chef Boy Ari,

I’m hardly God’s gift to the kitchen, but I make a pretty good chicken-fried steak. I use only the shwaggiest ingredients, as required, and plus I’m from Texas. So when the steak comes out of the hot oil it’s perfectly crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside and ready for a nice pour of good ol’ milk gravy.

Only problem is, my gravy is so bland it makes Wonder Bread seem spicy by comparison.

All I do is I take a few spoonfuls of fry oil, heat it in a pan with flour and add milk, salt and pepper like my recipe says, but the gravy is bland. I still serve it on my chicken-fried steak, as is required, and it’s the better for it. But I want a better gravy. Any advice you could offer would be greatly appreciated.

—Gravy in Training (not my real name)

Dear Gravy Trainer,

I think instead of spooning fry oil into a separate pan, you should try using the steak-frying pan itself, which has all kinds of meaty particles stuck to the bottom. Using the same pan allows you to incorporate those goodies, called fond, into the gravy, where they belong.

Also, consider the advice of your fellow Texan Luci Brieger, whose grandmother happened to make the best chicken-fried steak in the world.

“I don’t remember exactly what she did,” Brieger admits, “but she would be boiling potatoes for mashed potatoes—as is required—and she’d mix some of the potato water into the gravy to thicken it. Then, after mixing it all up, she’d bake the gravy in the oven. You couldn’t get enough of it.”

It might not be a road map, but at least it points you in the right direction. And in a pinch, a 50-50 mix of mustard and mayonnaise for a dipping sauce is a good option as well—though Texans may disagree.

Send your food and garden queries to flash@flashinthepan.net.