There are a lot of people that are cooking at home more often. Sauces and gravies can help make foods different and they work wonders for turning bland foods into something delicious.
I am going to offer you some suggestions for making your own sauces and gravies at home instead of relying on expensive mixes and jars that don’t go very far. In some cases, I am just going to offer you the base ingredients and tell you to experiment a little because tastes vary and I have found that by experimenting with sauces and gravies it is possible to find tailor a recipe to meet your tastes and that of your family rather than just eating the basic recipe that appeals to the masses.
By making your own sauces and gravies you can also address any allergies or other dietary restrictions. A lot of premade gravies and sauces contain high fructose corn syrup, a very excessive amount of salt, artificial flavoring, and colors, and dairy and wheat ingredients.
The Base Ingredients: Tomato Sauce or Paste, Salt, Garlic and Onion Powder, and Sugar
Making mustard at home is easy if you have mustard powder. If you do not then you can use mustard seeds, vinegar, and salt to make your own at home.
Sweet and Sour Sauce
Mayonnaise from the store has a decent shelf life but not so much that it is a good thing to have more than a year’s worth of on hand. You can make mayo at home but it takes some time and uses eggs.
Matt and I like to make gyros from scratch. Since we raise and butcher our own sheep, we often use that. Traditionally gyros are served with a creamy dill sauce. We make our own and we are not afraid to substitute some ingredients when needed.
We combine yogurt, dill, lemon juice, black pepper, and a little bit of minced dill pickle or cucumber. You should use cucumber traditionally speaking but sometimes you have to make do with what you have on hand!
To make a basic gravy you are going to need some flour or corn starch for thickening.
My Basic Gravy Ingredients List: Corn Starch or flour, water, and spices. Meat gravies require fat or pan drippings. Bacon grease works well.
Rice and gravy or red beans and rice in a classic roux can make a great meal, especially if you can throw a little seasoning meat in with it. Check out James’ article on beans and rice for some good budget recipes.
Recipes That Utilize Sauces and Gravies
Meat and Gravy Over Rice Served With Or Without Vegetables
This is a very versatile recipe because you can use a lot of different meats. Our favorite is beef tips with mushroom and onion gravy but beef is harder to come by than it used to be. Turkey or chicken works very well in a gravy sauce over rice. Some mixed vegetables are nice if you have them.
Frozen Brocolli, Chicken, and Cheese Sauce served over rice is another good hardy recipe that is inexpensive to fix.
Pasta is great because it is easy and fills you up. If tomato sauces give you heartburn then try some white sauces that are made with parmesan cheese and olive oil. Grape seed oil is a good substitute if you cannot find or afford olive oil.
When it comes to easy and inexpensive foods to store, it is hard to beat pasta, especially if you can eat regular wheat products. If you are stuck at home and don’t have pasta but have flour and oil, you can make your own pasta fairly easily. It can be a little time consuming but you may have more time on your hands during a crisis that requires staying at home more or at least staying away from restaurants and saving money.
- Tomato Sauces
- Garlic, Onion, and Olive Oil
This can be made with regular butter or the powdered variety. Some people like to mix buttery and olive oil together in a blend. You can create an herbed butter by melting butter and letting herbs simmer in it for a minute or you can let herbs and spices marinate in olive oil. This base can be good on pasta or over vegetables.
Add salt as desired
I wanted to touch base on salt. I find that a lot of commercial sauces and gravies are far too salty. I also know that a lot of people are trying to watch their sodium intake and a lot of processed foods with good shelf life tend to have a lot of salt. A lot of sauces can be good with varying levels of sodium. It is best to taste a little before you add any extra salt.
This is especially important if you are combining a lot of things to cook a dish. I have made the mistake of salting one part of a recipe and then another part, combining them, and then realizing that the two combined are far too salty. It is very easy to do this with scratch cooking especially if you are just starting out with cooking a lot at home or with more basic ingredients.
Don’t be afraid to get creative with sauces, gravies, and exploring recipes.
When you are first starting out with cooking it can be a little intimidating especially if you are cooking for others and worried that you are going to ruin a meal or waste food.
Please don’t feel like you should not experiment. That is how fabulous recipes are born. I do have to say that Matt and I have a rule that we don’t try out new recipes if we have relatives or company coming. We save our food experiments for when we just have to worry about feed ourselves. You may also want to try making just a few servings of something new when you are bored.
I am the worst in the world about remembering to write down what I do when cooking. Perhaps it is due to all the other writing and reading that I do.
Gravy and Sauces Shopping List
In this section, I am just going to list the ingredients you should have in your pantry or preps to make basically all the sauces and gravies discussed in this article and more. I have provided links for items that may be more difficult to find at a regular grocery store in a reasonable packaged size for your money.
- Tomato Powder and Paste- I like to have both on hand because sometimes a whole can of tomato paste is way more than what is needed in a recipe. Tomato powder also has a longer shelf life. I buy Augason Farms Tomato Powder in a #10 can. It has an excellent flavor and the price is great. Unopened it will last for up to 25 years.
- Olive and Grapeseed Oil
- Dried Parmesan or Parmesan-Romano Cheese
- Dried White or Orange Cheese Powder. I prefer the Hoosier Hill White Cheese Powder in 5 lb bags. The Frontier Farms Cheese Powders are also quite good.
- Powdered Milk. We keep powdered whole milk and buttermilk on hand. Hoosier Hill Farm offers high quality powdered milk.
- Low Sodium Vegetable Broth Powder ( I buy Frontier Co-Op’s version.)
- Dried Minced Garlic or Garlic Powder
- Dried Minced Onion or Onion Powder
- Beef Broth or Mix.
- Chicken Broth or Bouillion. My favorite Bouillion is the Better Than Bouillon brand because it is just so flavorful compared to the cheap cubes I have bought in the past.
- Dried or Canned Mushrooms
- Salt and Black Pepper
- Italian Seasoning or the herbs and spices to make it.
- Chili Powder or Dried Chilis
- Pepper Sauce
- Canned Juices. Apple, pineapple, and orange all work well.
- Honey or Molasses. Honey is great but it is expensive. Molasses lends a different flavor but costs far less.
- Lemon Juice
- Yogurt Powder
- Dill Weed
- Soy Sauce
- Additional assorted spices as desired. For some recommendations, check out my post “Best Herbs and Spices For Preppers”.
- Salad Dressing Base Mixes such as Hidden Valley Ranch
Of course, the list above is just a start. The beauty of a lot of the items listed above is that they can be used for a lot of different recipes besides just sauces so it is not like you are buying a ton of specialty items that are only useful for a few recipes.
Buying In Bulk
I have learned from experience that the savings are substantial if you buy the ingredients I listed in bulk. Cheese powder is a perfect example. A single lb may cost $12 or more but I large bag that weighs 5 lbs brings the cost down to $7 an lb. The same thing goes for buttermilk and whole powdered milk.
Gravy is the key to a good pot pie.
Matt and I made some little chicken pot pies for some frozen convenience food while at home. In order to make a good chicken or other meat pie, you have to create a gravy. I do this by adding all my main ingredients and then adding cornstarch to some cold water. I mix until smooth and keep adding the mixture until I get my pie filling thick enough.
Additional spices are added as needed. You have to be careful when thickening and give the food some time to bubble. Gravy can get really thick faster than you would like. It may seem thin but after 30 seconds of simmering, it may actually be thicker than you would like.
Matt and I stopped buying commercially made salad dressings for a variety of reasons. First of all they are often just soybean oil based. Many also contain uncultured dairy products so I cannot eat them. The main motivating factor is cost for what you get as well.
You can make your own salad dressings using spices, oils, and dried or fresh yogurt. We buy ranch mix that doesn’t have any nonfat milk powder in it. There are plenty of brands out there and it also means that you can mix up as little or as much as you want. The mix can also be used for dips or flavoring meats and pasta salads.
Some salad dressings are very salty as well. Sure there are low sodium versions available but they still tend to be quite salty.
Hidden Valley makes a lot of salad dressing bases. Of course, you can play around and create your own Italian Seasoning Blend too. For example, you could combine some dried Italian Herb Blend with some minced garlic and Parmesan cheese and let that marinate in a blend of half olive oil and vinegar. You may need to add some extra salt and the amount will vary depending on if your Italian Herb Blend has any salt in it.
Vinegar based or salty sauces and gravies will last longest in the fridge. We generally just make enough of something to consume within 3 days. Any sauce or gravy that has a lot of dairy in it is not going to last as long as vinegar or oil based.
Contamination from being opened a lot or from having dirty cutlery dipped into a sauce can cause spoilage to occur more quickly. You also want to be sure to only dish out what you are going to use. If you start dipping shrimp into cocktail sauce, plan on eating it all right then or throwing it away. Seafood and fish are especially good at causing sauces to go back more quickly or worse, cause illness.
Explore more recipes online.
Explore online for recipes. I think you will find that you can do a version of most recipes with the ingredients I have highlighted in this article. At most you might need just another ingredient or two.
If there is a specialty sauce you like out there I highly encourage you to try to duplicate it at home. Chances are you can do it with higher quality ingredients and more easily than you think.
Do you have any sauce or gravy recipes to share? Do you have experience home canning homemade sauces? If I have not listed an ingredient that you think is useful for making sauces or gravies, please add it in the comments below.