Vegetarian Gravy (Guess the Secret Ingredient!) – Recipe

Vegetarian Gravy
Vegetarian Gravy

I don't go in for a lot of American-style comfort food, but who can resist a big plate of mashed potatoes and gravy? (Or biscuits and gravy, for that matter.) I always make this for Thanksgiving, but maybe for some of you folks this will be just in time for Christmas dinner.

I suppose the title of this post is misleading. There are actually two secret ingredients in my gravy: Marmite, and dried porcini mushrooms. 

Marmite, and its cousin, Vegemite are beloved as toast spreads in the UK, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. I'm sure to get flames from all of those countries for even mentioning them in the same sentence. They are both intensely flavored yeast extracts that pack a serious punch of umami.

I'd rather pull all my nosehairs out with a pair of chopsticks then eat Marmite on toast. But as a bass note in gravy, it is ideal. I first learned this trick when I was a cook at Green Gulch Farm in Marin County way back in the 1980s, and I've kept it in my back pocket ever since.

[Oh! Since I wrote this up a few weeks ago, I've been reading The Fat Duck Cookbook, and imagine my surprise to see that Heston Blumenthal uses Marmite in the broth for his vegetarian pot-au-feu.]

The dried porcini are a little bit expensive. They add another layer of mushroomy funk that I find irresistible. You could also use dried shiitakes in a pinch, or double the fresh mushrooms.

For the vegetable broth, you need to use a clear style, like the excellent Seitenbacher broth powder. Do not use the thick, soup-style stuff that some companies confusingly label as broth.

If you don't mind an extra pan to clean, you can get this done faster by making the roux at the same time as the broth. 

For biscuits and gravy, cook the roux just for a minute or so without browning, replace 4 of the cups of vegetable broth with milk, and reduce the Marmite by half. Add 1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper.

Vegetarian Gravy with Marmite
Yields 6 cups

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter for saute, plus 10 tablespoons for roux
  • 1/2 pound fresh button, crimini, or portobello mushrooms (stems from another use is fine), roughly chopped 
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • pinch salt
  • 6 cups clear vegetable broth (see note above)
  • 1/2 ounce dried sliced porcini mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons Marmite
  • 10 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  1. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a 2 quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the fresh mushrooms, thyme, and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally until softened and starting to brown.
  2. Add the vegetable broth and porcini. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer, then cook for 15 minutes. Whisk the marmite with a tablespoon or two of the hot liquid to dissolve, then whisk that back into the main pot.
  3. Strain the mushroom broth, pressing thoroughly to extract as much flavor as possible. Reserve.
  4. In the same pan, melt the remaining 10 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour. Reduce heat to medium-low. Keep whisking more or less constantly until the flour is medium brown (or darker if you feel comfortable with that). 
  5. Working carefully to avoid dangerous spatters, whisk the mushroom broth back in. You will see it begin to thicken immediately and then thin out as all of the liquid gets into the pan. Bring it back to a simmer and then check the consistency. If it is a little too thick, add a bit more vegetable broth or water. If it is too thin, whisk in a slurry made of equal parts cornstarch and water, 1 tablespoon at a time, always maintaining a simmer. 
  6. Taste and adjust salt, and add more Marmite if needed. Strain and serve immediately, or refrigerate for up to 2 days and reheat when ready to use.
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Posted by Michael Natkin on Monday, December 20th, 2010 in Recipes, Sauces and Condiments.

25 Responses to “Vegetarian Gravy (Guess the Secret Ingredient!) – Recipe”

  1. Kris B
    December 20, 2010 at 8:30 am #

    Sounds and looks delicious! Thanks!

  2. December 20, 2010 at 11:20 am #

    Sounds good! I imagine that my vegetarian hubby would enjoy this!

  3. December 20, 2010 at 1:04 pm #

    I am TOTALLY going to try this!! (As you know) I’m a HUGE gravy fanatic – I have a couple gravy recipes using Marmite and they truly do have the best, most rich flavor of any of my gravies… but the addition of mushrooms sounds divine!! I’ll check back and let you know how it fares among the non-vegetarians haunting my house this week!!!

  4. December 20, 2010 at 2:22 pm #

    I’m a huge fan of vegemite and have it on my toast every morning, but would never have thought of using it as a base for gravy. I will have to try this.

  5. December 20, 2010 at 5:00 pm #

    Wow, what a great recipe. I’ve been struggling with turning some holiday favorites into vegetarian dishes. Great idea!

  6. December 20, 2010 at 10:11 pm #

    Glad to make this one for my not so healthy-eating nephews. I’m sure they wouldn’t know the difference. Thanks for the share!

  7. December 21, 2010 at 9:51 am #

    Thank you for this! Gravy is one of the things I miss most about my old carnivorous lifestyle and this sounds perfect. I’ve done a couple mushroomy versions before but it was always missing something – the marmite is genius.

  8. December 21, 2010 at 12:38 pm #

    Golly, here people are crazy for marmite and veggiemite, some prefer one and some the other (usually Australians go for marmite and New Zealanders for veggiemite… to me they taste the same!).

    I don’t understand what you mean by biscuit and gravy… biscuit to me is a cookie or a cracker… can you tell me what do you mean?

    ciao
    Alessandra

    PS
    and happy holidays!!!

  9. Michael Natkin
    December 21, 2010 at 12:58 pm #

    Oh yeah, I never thought about how odd biscuits and gravy must sound to anyone from Europe, where biscuit means a cookie! A biscuit in America is somewhere between a croissant and a muffin, and they are hugely popular especially in the American South. They are raised with baking soda, and the butter is added with a pastry-style techique so they come out both tender and flaky. Here's a post I wrote about them a million years ago: link to herbivoracious.com

    • August 20, 2012 at 9:32 am #

      Working my way through the myriad wonders of your site– I love it!

      Just a thought, long after Alessandra’s original query: I’d say a biscuit is much more like a SCONE, and really not at all like a muffin (which is more of a cake) or a croissant (which uses rolling and folding with butter to achieve its layers).

      Actually, a classic American biscuit pretty much IS a classic (unfruited) scone. It’s just that Americans have been confused by gigantic, leaden, packed with everything-but-the-kitchen-sink doorstops which are termed “scones” in coffee shops here. I first had scones while living in Johannesburg as a child– they weren’t even sweet, and I think that would be a shock to lots of Americans. I recall thinking they were biscuits– and of course, they were!

      • August 20, 2012 at 9:40 am #

        You are absolutely right, the things that pass for scones in most American coffee shops are just free form, oversweet muffins. A true scone is flaky and basically the same technique as an American biscuit.

  10. December 22, 2010 at 6:34 am #

    I was first introduced to Marmite in Italy and worked hard, but never quite understood why it was so beloved. However, I bought a bottle of it that has been sitting in my pantry ever since. Now I have a reason to but it to good use!

  11. Michael Natkin
    December 22, 2010 at 11:44 am #

    I'm surprised that many Italians would like Marmite, it doesn't seem their style! Let me know if you try it out in gravy. I think it does a nice job of amping up umami without changing the flavor profile to be Asian the way shoyu, shiiitake or miso might.

  12. December 29, 2010 at 8:08 pm #

    One of my very first, and most beloved, vegetarian cookbooks (by Rose Elliot, published in the late 1980′s or early 1990′s) taught me to use Marmite and mushrooms for really good gravy, and I frequently do a variation using both (but there are always onions and garlic included in the recipe). I would not dream of eating Marmite straight away on toast, however I also go into a mild panic when it runs out. It’s a seasoning, people, not a food group! Luckily the behemoth chain grocery stores in my area carry it in their ‘international’ sections, so it is always available.

  13. Michael Natkin
    December 29, 2010 at 8:34 pm #

    Interesting! I learned about it in the spring of 1986 when I was living at Green Gulch Farm, part of the SF Zen Center. Sounds like that recipe and the one from Rose Elliot might have had a common ancestor.

  14. December 30, 2010 at 12:02 am #

    To the best of my knowledge broth is absolutely not vegetarian ingredient.
    http://vegetarian-zone.com

  15. Michael Natkin
    December 30, 2010 at 6:37 am #

    Broth simply means a thin infusion of flavorful ingredients; there are dozens of vegetarian broths on the market, made mostly from onions, carrots, leeks, celery and often yeast extracts. My favorite brand is Seitenbacher. 

  16. January 14, 2011 at 6:17 am #

    I tried this recipe last night on belgian waffles topped with portobella mushroom planks and walnuts (an approximation of something my grandmother used to make with poached chicken). It was wonderful- even my skeptical other half enjoyed it. Thanks for the tip about Marmite; I never would have touched it, otherwise.

  17. Michael Natkin
    January 14, 2011 at 2:07 pm #

    I'll be darned! Were you following the twitter discussion of vegetarian chicken & waffles or is this just serendipity?

  18. Kimbo
    February 17, 2011 at 1:13 pm #

    UK Marmite, NZ Marmite and Australian vegemite are different things though (listed here in order of taste strength from high to low). All will work well in stock though :) I just bought a large tub of NZ marmite over to a friend in the US and she loves it. The problem is that most people assume that you eat it like Nutella. Start with a small amount on toast with butter and to make it even more palatable grill it on toast with cheese, you will love it in no time!

  19. Jay
    February 18, 2011 at 1:15 pm #

    Actually, NZ and Australian Marmite are exactly the same. It’s all made in the same factory in NZ! However, Vegemite is different although available in both countries as well.

  20. Saskia
    July 12, 2011 at 10:08 am #

    I often put Marmite in my gravy, but then I am in the UK where it is a widely available ingredient. I also frequently use it when making roast potatoes – it adds that savoury umami flavour that meat eaters get from roasting the meat in the same pan. My usual veggie roast potato recipe goes: parboil the potatoes until they are cooked at the edges but still crunchy in the middle, drain & add 2-3 tsp butter, 1\2 tsp marmite & black pepper (maybe a little salt but you don’t desperately need it as the butter & marmite both contain salt, and if you’ve boiled them in salted water or stock you definitely won’t need extra salt), then shake them gently until they are well coated in the marmite & butter mixture. Transfer to a preheated roasting dish containing a little vegetable oil & roast until crispy (at least 40 mins).

    A tip for people who think they don’t like Marmite: spread it REALLY thinly on buttered toast and you’ll probably appreciate it a lot more – it is a bit overwhelming if you try to spread it thickly like other spreads! Give it another try as it’s a really great source of B vitamins (better than Vegemite!).

  21. Michael Natkin
    July 12, 2011 at 10:16 am #

    That is a very interesting recipe for the potatoes! I could see how that would be delicious. Thanks for sharing.

    Michael Natkin

    Find me:

    The latest from my blog, Herbivoracious: Vegetarian Frijoles Charros – Mexican Cowboy Beans with Smoked Onion – Recipe

  22. Emma
    November 12, 2012 at 3:30 pm #

    I love Marmite! I like Vegemite too, but to me, Marmite is the shizz. :) I think you either love it or hate it.

  23. Charlie
    November 22, 2012 at 7:40 pm #

    I made this for Thanksgiving this year, and it was a big hit! I expected a passable substitute for meat gravy, but this was genuinely delicious. Also, this was my introduction to marmite, which took some effort to track down here in Idaho. I can’t say I’ll be eating eating it on toast anytime soon, but I’ll definitely come back to this gravy.

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