Tomato gravy with fried okra and rice
Tomato gravy. It’s one of those odd Southern recipes you never see in a restaurant but can find quite often in a home kitchen. Actually, I think it’s gone out of fashion a little bit. If you Google tomato gravy, you’ll find a slew of recipes involving someone’s grandmother. Where is Terrell when I need him? He’d know the origins of tomato gravy and just the right way to fix it. But I neglected to ask him about tomato gravy while he was alive and I am sure he’s snickering Up Yonder at me.
That’s okay. I like my tomato gravy. It’s basically a bechamel sauce with a few other additives. The traditional way is to serve it over biscuits, but the other night Mark got a notion to fry some okra and we just made a summer plate of tomato gravy, fried okra and rice.
I imagine our ancestors in Appalachia, where this is a very popular dish, started making tomato gravy because it was cheap. Many of the recipes don’t involve flour, which would have been a costly addition. Many of them do involve bacon drippings, which everyone would have in a jar sitting next to the stove. Nobody knows why it’s called a gravy since traditional gravies involve the addition of some kind of meat. Maybe that’s why I love this recipe so much. Nobody actually knows where it came from, the historical details of its invention. Except some elderly granny in a hollow somewhere in the Back of Beyond who one day looked at her bacon jar and some home-canned tomatoes and decided some combination of both would taste mighty fine on a biscuit.
2 tablespoons butter or bacon drippings
2 tablespoons diced onion
2 tablespoons flour
¾ cup whole milk
¾ cup chicken stock
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained (juice reserved)
A few dashes Tabasco
Salt and pepper to taste
Melt the butter in a 2-quart saucepan. Add the onion and sauté until it is translucent. Add the flour and whisk continuously until the mixture turns a light brown. Add the milk and continue whisking as the mixture thickens. Add the chicken stock and whisk away until it thickens again. Add the diced tomatoes, Tabasco and season with salt and pepper. If the mixture is a little too thick, add some of the reserved tomato juice.
Yield: Makes enough for two servings. You can easily double or triple the recipe.