I don’t know who to “blame” for me whipping up this Southern Tomato Gravy the other day. Certainly not all my family that has migrated down to Georgia because I have never had Southern Tomato Gravy at their homes nor heard the words Tomato Gravy pass their lips. I knew it was going to be just the thing to go over the leftover Biscuits I made the other day, though.
Sometimes when I hear about Southern recipes I’m a little taken aback. For instance, Chicken Fried Steak is always credited to Texas, but in Iowa where Germans settled enforce in the 1880’s, where excellent beef is raised, Chicken Fried Steak seems to have always been a farm table and Diner specialty. Makes sense that they would make their Schnitzel out of beef. Or out of pork, like this Iowa Pork Tenderloin Sandwich. But Southern Tomato Gravy, it seems, is truly a Southern recipe. And that makes sense, with their longer growing seasons and what I imagine, an abundance of tomatoes.
About Southern Tomato Gravy:
And it probably doesn’t really matter how and where Southern Tomato Gravy came from, I just always find the history of any recipe to be interesting. What’s important is that Southern Tomato Gravy is truly delicious and a great way to put to good use the end of summer tomatoes that come so fast and furious in the late summer heat and in the last weeks before the first really hard frost.
Of course, you might have heard of all the Italian tomato sauces called Tomato Gravy, goodness knows why. Maybe to make it seem familiar to other Americans of different nationalities. Take a step back from those meaty, herby and sometimes spicy sauces. True Southern Gravy is a whole ‘nuther animal, altogether. It relies, at it’s most basic, on just little more than leftover dripping from bacon or sausage, a touch of flour and tomatoes. (Make it vegetarian by using oil or butter instead of the drippings.)
It’s served over rice, over bread or biscuits, maybe even grits. Sometimes it’s a sauce over meatloaf or chicken. As a matter of fact, the sauce on this recipe for Chicken Bordeaux from the New York Times Cookbook, circa 1970’s always reminded me of Southern Tomato Gravy. Granted there’s wine and mushrooms in that recipe but take a peek and see if you don’t think so, too.
Making Southern Tomato Gravy:
So all that brings us to how to make Southern Tomato Gravy. So many choices and possibilities! As mentioned, start with the drippins’ or if you must or if you want to go Vegetarian, butter, or oil. And add an equal amount of flour just to form a roux and give the sauce a little body. Use two tablespoons of each if you’d like your gravy thinner, three tablespoons to make it a bit more substantial.
From there, it’s time to think about the tomato part of the sauce. Do you want your tomato sauce smooth, chunky or a combination? And are you going to rely on all fresh garden tomatoes (you’ll want to peel & seed them) or canned or a combination? Do you want your sauce to be piquant and full-on in your face tomato flavor? Add a little tomato paste to boost that tomato flavor right after the roux is made. Or maybe you want to tone down the potentially acidic flavor. A pinch or two of sugar, a drizzle of milk or cream at the end will do the trick.
And of course, you’ll want to think about any flavorings. Do you want your Southern Tomato Gravy just as God intended (so I’m a bit prejudiced, lol) plain, relying on the drippings and tomato to bring home the flavor or do you want to go fancier? Maybe you’d like to add some onion or garlic, sauteed in the drippings before the flour is added. A pinch or two of your favorite herb. Maybe thyme, celery seed, a pinch of red pepper, You couldn’t go wrong with a squeeze of lemon or a dash of vinegar or maybe a touch of Sherry. And you’ll never want to forget the good black pepper, both in the Southern Tomato Gravy and over the top, freshly cracked, generously, when it’s served.
Saving Money on Southern Tomato Gravy:
While this dish has a history of being a “cheap” meal, maybe served after the war, and certainly, in the Depression, tomatoes are always super pricey at the store and they’re just a bit of a gamble. Seriously, you can never rely any longer on looks. Those little fancy vine-ripened tomatoes look like a good bet, even if they cost an arm and a leg but you get them home and they taste like nothing. Plum tomatoes used to be a good bet, flavor-wise until they became wildly popular and the flavor went by the wayside, just like with the larger tomatoes. So it’s always nice to grow your own if you can.
Gardening isn’t feasible for some and even when it is, starting a garden isn’t a cheap proposition. There is a kind of break-even point in labor and materials including fencing if needed and supplementing the soil that no-one seems to talk about. Either keep your garden smallish and focus on the expensive veggies or make it much larger and grow everything you can, from seed. When I was at my Dad’s the last couple years, we used to joke about the first few tomatoes, until they really started coming in and we could no longer keep track. We’d say, “Look, look – it’s a $30.00 (or however much we had put into the garden that year) tomato.” The second one, of course, would be a $15.00 tomato and so on. I’m kicking myself now for not doing more to get my little garden in shape this year now that I’m home.
If you have leftover Southern Tomato Gravy, thin it down with more milk and/or chicken stock, maybe a dash of Sherry and refashion it into good old Tomato Soup. No one will even guess it’s leftover. The Biscuit Recipe I used here is on my post for Classic Biscuits & Sausage Gravy.
Southern Tomato Gravy
- 2 to 3 tablespoons bacon or sausage drippings, or butter or oil
- 2 to 3 tablespoons flour (use the amount equal to the drippings)
- 1 29 ounce can whole tomatoes and the juice, blended until homogenous in a blender (see note)
- 1 to 2 whole tomatoes, seeded and chopped into small dice along with any juice
- salt and pepper to taste (use lots of pepper)
- a little sugar or brown sugar to taste, optional
- 1/2 cup heavy cream or milk or as much or you wish
In a large frying pan, heat the bacon drippings until hot, using 2 tablespoons if you’d like your tomato gravy on the thin side, 3 tablespoons if you’d like it a little thicker. Add the flour, 2 tablespoons if you’ve used two tablespoons of drippings and three tablespoons if you’ve used three tablespoons of drippings. Whisk, forming a roux. Cook for a minute or two, whisking until it becomes a blonde color.
Add the blended tomatoes, all at once, stirring. Add the chopped tomatoes and their juice. Simmer for several minutes until gravy is thickened to your liking.
Add salt and pepper to taste and sugar to taste if the sauce seems acidic. Remove from heat and add cream or milk.
Serve over good bread, rice, grits, biscuits, chicken or meatloaf, with an additional grinding of pepper over the top.
There’s no need to make a fuss skinning just the two fresh tomatoes added to supplement this Tomato Gravy, but if you’d like to make this with all fresh tomatoes, you’ll need about two pounds and you will want to skin and deseed them. Cut a small shallow X on the bottom of each tomato and drop them into boiling water for about a minute. Scoop them out and plunge them into very cold water. The X will lift up a bit and the skin peels easily off. Deseed them over a strainer placed in a bowl so you save all the juices for the Gravy. You may need to add a bit of tomato juice to get the desired consistency.
I’ll be sharing Southern Tomato Gravy at Fiesta Friday 236, hosted this week by Julianna @ Foodie on Board and Debanita @ Canvassed Recipes. Stop by and take a peek at their sites. You’ll love Julianna’s food – everything she makes has a special touch that takes it over the top. I’ve only just began exploring Debanita’s blog, but the scope of her recipes is outstanding! You never know what you’ll find.