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 Make it Low Carb: Saucy!
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 The Low Carb Connoisseur

   
 
                 Make it Low Carb! by Joan Hedman

Thank you to all the readers who have sent in their recipe suggestions. So far, desserts and sweets are beating out all other requests by about 3 to 1. We'll return to the sweet side next month, but for this month's column we're going to tackle something so tasty and so useful that everyone should know how to make it: gravy.

Gravy can give your everyday chop or filet a new appeal. It's also the one thing that can turn leftovers into something even more delicious the second time around. I don't know anyone who really doesn't like gravy, although I do know people who don't eat it because of dietary restrictions. I also know people who never eat gravy because they never make gravy, because it's too difficult or time-consuming and it never comes out right. I'm here to help with all of these issues.

Regular, high carb gravies and sauces are almost always thickened with flour. You mix the flour with hot melted butter to create a lovely roux... a tricky process. When the flour has been combined with the butter, the liquid is slowly whisked in, and then the whole business is stirred over heat until it reaches the desired consistency.

You don't have to do anything that high carb or complicated. My fool-proof low carb gravy starts with only two ingredients and three pieces of equipment:

Ingredients

  1. chicken broth (or water and chicken bouillon)
  2. xanthan gum
Equipment

  1. shake mixer, blender, or stick blender
  2. microwave
  3. strainer or seive

Xanthan gum, for those of you unfamiliar with it, is an all-natural thickener; I buy the Bob's Red Mill brand that's carried in my local supermarket's natural food section. It can be expensive (about $10 for a very small bag), but a little goes a long way with this stuff, so don't be afraid to make the investment. It's also 100% fiber, so any gravy you're making with it is a guilt-free food.

Here's what you do: Combine 1 cup of chicken broth (or water, if you're using bouillon) and one-quarter teaspoon xanthan gum. Blend thoroughly using a shake mixer or blender for about 30-45 seconds. Now you will have approximately one cup of strangely thickened, slightly foamy stuff that doesn't look at all like gravy. Don't worry, we're not done yet.

Transfer the gloopy liquid into a microwave safe container. I like to use a 2-cup glass measuring cup. If you have a stick blender, you could start out in the 2-cup glass measuring cup and save yourself an extra dish. This is where you turn your thickened chicken stock into gravy. Add any number of the following you feel is appropriate:

  • a pinch dried or fresh herbs; I use rosemary, thyme, parsley, sage, and fresh ground black pepper (in descending order of amounts used). Bay leaf, marjoram, and/or tarragon would also be nice. Consider what you're serving the gravy over/with as you decide how to "doctor" it.

  • one to two tablespoons of pan drippings

  • one-eighth teaspoon of Gravy Master

  • a teaspoon of white wine or vermouth

  • a crushed garlic clove

If you're working with water and bouillon instead of chicken stock, now is the time to add the bouillon cube or teaspoon or so of bouillon granules, too.

Once you've added your seasonings, put the cup into the microwave and cook it on full power for about 2 minutes. Remove from the microwave and stir (especially if you are using bouillon, you want to be sure it is all dissolved) then set it aside and let it "steep" until just before you're ready to serve dinner.

If you have pan-fried, saut?ed, or roasted meat for your dinner, remove the meat from the pan to a plate; cover it to retain warmth. Pour off any grease in the pan (don't scrape out the pan, though!), then dump in the contents of the measuring cup. Over medium heat, stir and scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen all the delicious bits that are stuck there. The technical term for this process is deglazing the pan. It sounds a lot more complicated than it is.

When you've scraped up everything from the bottom of the pan and the sauce has a uniform color and consistency, pour it through a strainer (now's the time to scrape the pan clean) into your gravy server. Do you really have to strain it? No, but xanthan gum will occasionally lump, even when subjected to a blender, and I find it's best to strain this gravy to insure a nice even texture. (I also dislike picking twigs of rosemary out of my food.)

If you don't have a pan to deglaze, don't despair. You will still have delicious gravy. Stir again, and take a tiny taste to decide if it needs anything else; sometimes you may want to add a last minute tablespoon or two of heavy cream, or a tablespoon of unsalted butter. Stir these in, and strain as directed above; check the temperature, too. You may want to reheat it for 30 seconds or so in the microwave before serving, if it has been steeping on the counter top long enough to cool.

If you'd like to make a "white sauce" rather than a broth-based gravy, you can substitute one-half cup of water or stock and one-half cup of heavy cream, half-and-half, or low carb milk for the liquid in the recipe above. Blend in the quarter-teaspoon xanthan, and then heat the mixture and stir until you get the consistency you want. White sauce like this makes whipping up a casserole very easy. It also makes a nice base for a cheese sauce; I like to stir in grated Monterey Jack and chopped green chilis and serve it over saut?ed chicken breasts.

If you are an old-school gravy aficionado and prefer to make a flour-thickened gravy, you should get good results using vital wheat gluten flour. Please note that this is not the same as the "high gluten flour" sometimes used for bread baking. Vital Wheat Gluten flour has only 6 grams of carbohydrates per one-quarter cup serving. It's a little more sensitive to heat, so you have to treat it gently, but it will thicken a sauce. I've even heard (but not experienced for myself) that you can turn out a good roux with it.

I never bother with flour-based gravies anymore, even when I have company. Last Thanksgiving, my "mashed potatoes and gravy" were a big hit. There wasn't much point in telling my guests they were really eating cauliflower "fauxtatoes" and gravy made with xanthan, although I made no effort to hide those facts. All they cared about was that it tasted good, and the only thing that was important to me was that my guests were happy.

You'll note that the method calls for using a cup of liquid to a quarter-teaspoon of xanthan. This makes about four small servings; if you need more, I recommend blending the xanthan in batches, since it will lump much more tenaciously when used in larger quantities. Some folks have good luck sprinkling xanthan from a shaker bottle and whisking vigorously; I am not one of them and prefer to rely on my trust shake mixer. When it comes to working with xanthan gum, experience will be your best teacher, so don't be afraid to get in there and mix it up!




I'm still curious about what you're cooking (or not), and what kind of recipes or techniques you'd like to see discussed here. Please email me with your ideas, suggestions, and requests; and many thanks again to everyone who has already done so.

I recommend Swanson's Natural Goodness Low Sodium chicken broth.

                                                

Copyright © April 2005  Joan O'Connell Hedman and Low Carb Luxury




       

 

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