The Genius Fix for Broken Gravy and Bland Anything

November  9, 2017

You never have to worry about broken gravy again. Or lumpy gravy or wan, watery gravy. Frankly, you don’t have to worry about serving any bland, textureless, or colorless meal ever again, either. Because at virtually all times, Cal Peternell’s 4-ingredient marvel sauce will be within reach.

Unlike other herby sauces you’ve known—pestos and pistous and anchovy-leaning salsa verdes—this one trades in a few of its auxiliary ingredients for one clever, clarifying step.

Peternell takes the rougher of winter herbs—prickly rosemary and furry-skinned sage, who aren’t usually at home in a raw sauce—and fries them crisp. As he explains, “Frying herb leaves before mixing them in allows them to be their whole spiky selves, adding a polite thorniness, giving sweet parsley a kind, crunchy kick.”

His manner of doing so has all sorts of advantages over what you might think when you’re told: “fry”—in his way, you’ll pour only a shallow pool of oil 3/4-inch deep, rather than a whole pot. You won’t need to rig a thermometer, and you can just use your regular olive oil if you like. And it will all happen fast, engaging all senses as the oil burbles and blooms, the leaves buckle, and your house starts to smell like you’ve just rotisseried a Christmas tree.

Frying herb leaves before mixing them in allows them to be their whole spiky selves, adding a polite thorniness, giving sweet parsley a kind, crunchy kick.
Cal Peternell

This move is a great trick for adding crunch, intrigue, and a gentle woodsy perfume to fresh pastas and roast meats and you-name-its (and will make you look quite fancy in the process), but here you’ll crumble the leaves straight into a slurry of chopped parsley, garlic, and more olive oil.

Not only do you likely already have all these ingredients laying around, but you probably needed to use that half-bunch of rosemary or wilting sage up quick. They’ll live a longer life this way, adding electric color and crunch beyond their prime to whatever you might want to spoon the sauce over.

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The uses and variations are almost literally endless. Grilled steaks, pots of beans, bowls of ricotta, fistfuls of bread. “The day after Thanksgiving," Peternell wrote to me, "I like to poach an egg, set it in a hot spoonful of leftover buttercup squash, and eat it with fried herb salsa. If last night's fog is still hanging dark, I might stir something spicy, crushed chilis or harissa, into the salsa to brighten things up.”

And of course the turkey’s a good candidate, whether the gravy makes it to the table or not.

Photos by Bobbi Lin

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected]—thank you to our Books Editor and Stylist Ali Slagle for this one.

This article was originally published in November 2016.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Deborah1654
  • Austincook
  • Darlene
  • Heidi Jo
    Heidi Jo
  • tamater sammich
    tamater sammich
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


Deborah1654 November 25, 2016
What is the clarifying step for gravy?
Kristen M. November 25, 2016
Sorry for any confusion, Deborah—the clarifying step mentioned in the second paragraph is about frying the herbs for the sauce to make them crisp and deepen the flavor, rather than chopping them up fresh. Let us know if you have any gravy questions, though—or try out the Food52 Hotline to get answers from the broader Food52 community
Austincook November 23, 2016
I made this tonight, for use tomorrow, and I'm debating whether or not to even offer it to the close family/friends who will be my guests. I followed the recipe and used fresh parsley bought today, and just-picked rosemary & sage from my garden (both in excellent condition, thanks to mild Texas weather). The result was disappointing - oily, dull, and not as flavorful as I'd hoped. Adding capers and some lemon juice brightened it, but probably not enough. Unless it improves overnight, I'll probably toss it.
Kristen M. November 25, 2016
Austincook, I'm very sorry to hear it disappointed—it is quite subtle, but amenable to tweaks like adding more garlic, salt, acid or anchovy, like a traditional salsa verde.
Darlene November 20, 2016
Why are people suddenly registering on this site only to seemingly instigate conflict? Anyway, the appearance of this is similar to a fresh herb sauce I've used from Martha Stewart for years, but I'm curious how frying some of the herbs will change the taste. I took "spiky" and "thorniness" to imply a textural impact more than a flavor one, but that's just my impression. We love fried sage in our family so I look forward to trying this soon.
AntoniaJames November 22, 2016
Heat deepens the flavor in many leafy herbs. I'm toying with the idea of taking this one off-road, using curry leaves (my plant is growing like crazy these days) and cilantro. One typically fries fresh curry leaves either in a hot dry skillet, or in hot oil, to bring out the flavor . . . . . ;o)
Heidi J. November 20, 2016
As a word-loving foodie and curious cook, I appreciate the description. I'd say that "their whole spiky selves" could be translated as "the entire herb with the pungency intact"; and "polite thorniness" may mean "a taste that carries a punch, but a subtle one, not too hard." A "kind, crunchy kick" is, most likely, very similar to the above-mentioned phrase, but with a crunch. Happy cooking!
tamater S. November 20, 2016
I didn't ask about the word "woodsy" as I'd grown accustomed to that concept over the years. But try to describe that to anyone asking - I can't do it! I'll get used to these terms too, if I keep reading them. A lot of descriptions I pick up through context, and 'osmosis'. You did a decent job. Thank you!
Marina G. November 20, 2016
Heidi Jo: the use of language is very personal. The author's choice of words is fine...your 'corrections' are pedantic and irritating...
Kristen M. November 20, 2016
Hi Heidi, thanks for your interpretation—I love it! It's funny—I read it a bit differently, thinking more about the texture and sturdiness of wintry herbs like rosemary, but that's what I find so fun and inspiring about poetic food descriptions from writers like Cal Peternell.
tamater S. November 20, 2016
Marina, I'm sorry you feel that way, because I asked if anyone could shed some extra light, and I found Heidi Jo's words helpful.
tamater S. November 20, 2016
Have a problem with the phrasing: "..their whole spiky selves.... polite thorniness, a kind, crunchy kick.” I don't intend any nastiness or sarcasm, I'm just saying that when I read this, a sense of bewilderedness sets in. Translation/clarification anyone?
Marina G. November 20, 2016
hhmmm... the only fact that would call for 'a sense of bewilderedness ' is the election of Trump...BTW: the ghost writer of Trump's book says that the president elect's vocabulary is 200 words...
tamater S. November 20, 2016
#1 - I meant to use the word 'bewilderment'.
#2 - What does the ghost writer of Trump's book have to do with the subject we're talking about in this thread?
JanieMac November 20, 2016
Jessica, I started with the recipe for Cacciucco from Saveur online. Years later it has changed somewhat in our house, but the same dish has variations in Liguria too. I think it originated in Genoa and around the Cinque Terra. The first one I ate was in Santa Margarita. It is a very hearty dish, full of flavour. I never cook the fish or shellfish as long as the Saveur recipe specified, it would be a travesty.
Marina G. November 20, 2016
the name of the region is 'Cinque Terre'...not 'terra...Santa Margherita, not Margarita...Margherita: Italian, Margarita: Spanish. Cinque Terre refers to five fishing communities, five small towns...singular: terra, plural: terre.
JanieMac November 20, 2016
This is exactly the same as the beginning of our favourite LIgurian fish stew, so that's another use for this beauty (and a little chopped chilli). It also makes a great base for end of season glut of green beans or runner beans, just add anchovy. Genius!
Jessica November 20, 2016
That fish stew sounds magical! Where can I find a recipe?
AntoniaJames November 22, 2016
Echoing Jessica's request . . . would love that fish stew recipe, JanieMac!! Please. ;o)
AntoniaJames November 22, 2016
Ooops. Okay, I see the reference above. Thanks and sorry for the inconvenience. ;o)
Alexandra S. November 16, 2016
Love the image of a rotisseried Christmas tree. Can't wait to make this!
Marina G. November 20, 2016