It is often thickened with wheat flour or corn starch for added texture.
The gravy may be further colored and flavored with gravy salt (a simple mix of salt and caramel food coloring) or gravy browning (gravy salt dissolved in water) or ready-made cubes and powders can be used as a substitute for natural meat or vegetable extracts.
Gravy is commonly served with roasts, meatloaf, rice, noodles and mashed potatoes.
The term “gravy” first appears in Middle English as gravé and is presumed to derive from French, since the word may be found in numerous medieval French cookbooks. The original medieval meaning was precise: the gravé consisted of the natural cooking juices that flowed from roasting meat.
By implication, this meat was spit-roasted, and therefore two important implements were required to make and collect the gravy: a flesh fork for piercing the meat in order to increase the flow of drippings, and a dripping pan beneath the roast, designed to collect the gravy for use at table.
Normally the gravy was skimmed of fat, salted, and then sent up as a sauce, although presalting was not necessary, since this could be accomplished to taste at table. The term in this sense has been replaced today by jus, as in beefsteak au jus.
With the revival of sauce cookery in 17th century France, gravy underwent numerous sophisticationswith the addition of herbs, wine, and other highly flavored ingredients.
The most common addition to gravy, was drawn butter, which remained popular into the 19th century.
In British and Irish cuisine, as well as in the cuisines of Commonwealth countries like Australia, New Zealand, and some areas in Canada, the word gravy refers only to the meat-based sauce derived from meat juices, stock cubes or gravy granules. Use of the word “gravy” does not include other thickened sauces. One of the most popular forms is onion gravy, which is eaten with sausages, Yorkshire pudding and roast meat.
Throughout the United States, gravy is commonly eaten with Thanksgiving foods such as turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing. One Southern United States variation is sausage gravy eaten with American biscuits. Another Southern US dish that uses white gravy is chicken-fried steak. Rice and gravy is a staple of Cajun and Creole cuisine in the southern US state of Louisiana.
In Italian-American communities, particularly on the East Coast and around the Chicago area, the term “gravy”, “tomato gravy”, or “Sunday gravy” is used, but this refers to a meat-based tomato sauce rather than meat drippings mixed with a thickener.
Gravy is an integral part of the Canadian dish poutine. It uses a mix of beef and chicken stock as well as vinegar.
In the United Kingdom and Ireland, a Sunday roast is usually served with gravy.
Brown gravy is the name for a gravy made from the drippings from roasted meat or fowl.
Cream gravy is a bechamel typically used in biscuits and gravy and chicken-fried steak
Egg gravy is a variety of gravy made starting with meat drippings (usually from bacon) followed by flour being used to make a thick roux.
Giblet gravy has the giblets of turkey or chicken added when it is to be served with those types of poultry, or uses stock made from the giblets.
Red-eye gravy is a gravy made from the drippings of ham fried in a skillet or frying pan.
Mushroom gravy is a variety of gravy made with mushrooms.
Onion gravy is made from large quantities of slowly sweated, chopped onions mixed with stock or wine.
Vegetable gravy or vegetarian gravy is gravy made with boiled or roasted vegetables.
Biscuits and gravy is a popular breakfast dish in the United States, especially in the South. The meal emerged as a distinct regional dish after the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), when stocks of foodstuffs were in short supply.
Rice and gravy is a staple of Louisiana Creole and Cajun cuisine, made by deglazing a pan to make brown gravy, simmered with extra seasonings, and served over steamed or boiled rice. Originally a dish favored by farmers and laborers, it is now often served in local plate lunch houses.