Last night, I was cooking dinner. It was a brand new recipe, Soy Dijon Pork Loin.
The recipe itself calls for a “pan sauce” to be made with the excess marinade. Now, aside from the fact that I don’t actually know what a pan sauce is, I figured I’d just follow the recipe.
Problem. The pan sauce calls for vegetable broth and I did not have any on hand. Ok, well, now it’s time for my YEARS of cooking experience to kick in.
I try to think what I can substitute. My knowledgeable brain decides that any liquid in the same amount ought to work.
Now, I suppose I should tell you that there was olive oil in the pan from lightly searing the pork, also some crispy particles from the same process. The recipe called for using the still warm pan and melting butter in it. Then adding the marinade and a cup of vegetable broth.
I did all of the above except for the broth. I figured water might work. Except it was only about a 1/4 cup of marinade and I was worried it would get too watery and flavorless. So I did 1/4 cup of water. Then, I thought of other options for more liquid to add. Don’t ask me why, but I was convinced I needed more liquid.
So I added a few tablespoons of sesame oil because I had it on hand.
I suppose it is possible I didn’t really think that one through. My brain was focused on flavor and not so much on…well common sense I suppose.
Adding sesame oil made the entire pan mixture very, um, oily? And then, of course, you will recall that I just finished adding….WATER.
So, now I have a rapidly separating mixture with floating chunks of charred pork and congealed goo (marinade). The whole thing looked like a terrible version of wet dog food gone wrong.
Of course, with my vast knowledge and experience in the culinary process, I was confident I could fix the problem. WHY I was confident, I’ll never know, because, let’s face it, I don’t know jack about making sauces. I don’t even know what I was doing except trying to follow a recipe and failing miserably.
So, I thought and thought and thought and the only solution I could come up with was to bind the gooey mixture to the oily stuff and make it homogeneous. That was the idea, at any rate. Once again, with my vast knowledge I figured it would have to be something powdery, like flour, in order to work.
I’m not real clear on the thought process there, just that my brain thought, POWDERY!, and then my brain deduced that this was the best idea it had ever heard. My brain needs a vacation, I think.
So I look in my cupboard and I spy….corn starch! Again, not super clear on what corn starch actually does, but I seemed to recall that my mom might have used it to thicken something and maybe it might bind the crap on my stove. Never mind that binding was not at all what the recipe said it should be doing but this was pretty jacked up by this point and for reasons I’ll never understand, I was intent on saving it. Saving something I didn’t know why I was making in the first place. Brilliance at it’s best, folks.
All my glorious knowledge determines that corn starch is the missing ingredient. I open the box, and without a second thought, dump some in. Did I measure? No. Did I read instructions? No. Did I give any thought to this at all? No, not really.
Well, clearly my solution was brilliant and the sauce was saved.
The sauce, formerly separated oil and congealed goo, had now become separated oil and CHUNKY congealed goo.
Not good. Actually, quite bad.
I stirred. That didn’t work. I whisked. That didn’t work. The stuff on the pan was a mysterious blend of too many ingredients. It was like a classroom full of students on the first day. Given instruction, they can probably work together, but if you just throw them in the room, there is going to be chaos.
My pan was that chaos.
I stared hard at this mixture. I peered as closely as I dared. I wondered if there was any chance it might turn into something if I kept whisking and cooking? The only thing that actually happened was the color. Adding the corn starch changed the color of the mixture from a dark brown to gravy brown. You know that color, replicated nowhere in nature, it is the color of brown gravy.
My brain seized on this idea like it was a life raft in a sea of horrible ideas. Suddenly I recalled that corn starch was exactly what my mother used to make gravy. So, I could turn this into gravy.
Perhaps with some help.
I pulled out my trusty friend, Google, and googled (no, I’m not kidding) “make gravy”.
The first link on the list detailed the process. Somehow, inadevertantly, I had mostly started making gravy without realizing it. With regard to the corn starch, I should have blended it with water to form a paste (so sayeth the Gods of Google) before adding it to the goop in the pan. I missed that step, which probably accounted for the chunks. But, the instructions said to keep adding water and whisking vigorously until it reaches the desired consistency.
I added a bunch of water (this slop was a MESS at this point) and began to whisk.
And suddenly, the slop started to transform. The chunks blended in. The color evened out. The oil combined with the sauce. It was pretty thick, so I added more water and kept whisking.
Every few minutes, I’d stop. It’d start to cook down and thicken. I’d add more water, keep whisking.
Once the pork was fully cooked, I pulled it out of the oven to let it rest.
Bravely, fearlessly, I tasted the mixture for the very first time.
good. Great, even.
I had made, for the first time in my life, gravy. It wasn’t on purpose and my guess is that I made it way harder than I had to, but I had, for all intents and purposes, created soy Dijon sesame gravy.
The very best part?
I worked so hard and turned this disaster into a working recipe. I felt like a real chef. Except…I don’t actually like gravy. I never eat it if I can help it. So there I was, a pan full of hard earned gravy, and I didn’t even want to eat it.
Now that, is a classic example of Livlife. Never give up, even if you don’t want the outcome.
And I did eat some. It was better than expected.