Classic Southern Tomato Gravy
Tomato gravy is one of those old time Southern favorites that likely originated as a frugal flourish to turn basic, inexpensive ingredients into something satisfying. In leaner times, leftover bacon or sausage drippings were used to make a roux, and home canned tomatoes made the gravy. Pan drippings my seem extravagant to us today, but they still do make the best tomato gravy, especially when crispy bits of meat find their way into the mix.
Folks disagree on whether milk belongs in tomato gravy. This recipe does not have milk, but yours can—replace 1 cup of the tomato sauce with 1 cup of milk or cream. There’s a delightful secret about this recipe. It’s actually the foundation for tomato soup! Simply add a couple more cups of chicken stock, water, or milk and there you have it, the thick and comforting soup of your childhood. Tomato gravy loves to show up for breakfast! For ages it's been served over fluffy buttermilk biscuits. We like to serve it over Chicken-Fried Grit Patties, or simply with our Creamy Country Grits—breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Makes about 5 cups | Cooking time: About 30 minutes
- 4 tablespoons butter or pan drippings from bacon or sausage
- 1 cup diced onion
- ¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ⅛ teaspoon celery seed, crushed between fingers
- 3 whole cloves
- 1 large clove garlic, crushed or grated
- 1 large bay leaf
- Red pepper flakes to taste
- ¼ cup flour
- 2 cups (or a 14.5-ounce can) tomato sauce
- 1 cup low sodium chicken broth
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 cups (or a 14.5-ounce can) diced tomatoes, or fresh tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Parsley and freshly ground pepper
Melt the butter or drippings in a deep skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions, black pepper, celery seed, cloves, garlic, bay leaf, and red pepper flakes, if using. Sauté until the onions begin to soften—2 to 3 minutes. Mix in the flour and continue to cook the roux, stirring constantly, until both the onions and the flour turn light golden brown—about 3 or 4 minutes. Don't let the flour or onions get too brown.
Add the tomato sauce, chicken broth, and the sugar. Combine with a whisk until the sauce comes to a boil. Turn the heat down until the gravy is at a low simmer. Cook until the mixture is smooth and thick—about 5 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes and their juice and simmer 15 to 20 minutes. Just before serving, remove the bay leaf and cloves, if you like, and stir in the lemon juice. Sprinkle with parsley and freshly ground pepper, if you like.
Classic Southern Tomato Gravy served over Chicken-Fried Grit Patties