All About Cullis, a Thick English Gravy

Published Categorized as Food
A bowl of cullisMadeleineSteinbach /Depositphotos

Cullis is a rich, hearty gravy that comforts the soul and stirs up nostalgia from simpler times. Here’s how to prepare it.

Read through any 18th-century cookbook, and chances are you will see at least a few mentions of cullis, the broth of the times.

Cullis, a deeply flavorsome broth of meat, vegetables, fresh herbs, and dried spices, is a staple recipe of old-style English cuisine. It’s not to be confused with coulis, a thin sauce made from puréed and strained veg or fruit.

If you’ve never eaten cullis—which is probably what brought you here in the first place—and you’re eager to try it, we wholeheartedly recommend that you do. It’s a fabulous example of how homey and delicious food from the past few centuries can be.

It’s rich and savory, spicy and tangy, and yet decadent and sweet all at the same time.

To help you find out what exactly cullis is and how to make it, let’s refer to the recipe below from The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, a cookbook, first published in 1747, by 18th-century English culinary writer Hannah Glasse.

Hannah Glasse’s Recipe for Cullis

The recipe is titled Cullis, or a thick Gravy:

“Take slices of ham, veal, celery, carrots, turnips, onions, leeks, a small bunch of sweet herbs, some allspice, black pepper, mace, a piece of lemon-peel, and two bay leaves,” writes Glasse in her down-to-earth, fuss-free style.

Mace, for readers unfamiliar with that term, is a yellowish-brown spice that’s made from the dried, lacy membrane of the nutmeg seed. Nutmeg seed, on the other hand, is the dried seed of the nutmeg tree’s ripe fruit.

Mace and nutmeg seeds, while related, are not necessarily the same thing. Still, if you can’t get your hands on mace, you could modernize the recipe by replacing it with nutmeg at a 1:1 ratio.

“Put them into a pan with a quart of water, and draw them down till of a light brown color, but be careful not to let it burn; then discharge it with beef stock. When it boils, skim it very clean from fat, and thicken it with flour and water, or flour and butter passed.”

If you don’t know what a passion of flour and butter is, don’t worry; we’ll feature Glasse’s recipe below.

“Let it boil gently three quarters of an hour,” adds Glasse, “season it to the palate with cayenne pepper, lemon juice, and salt; strain it through a tamis cloth or sieve, and add a little liquid of color.”

A liquid of color is basically caramelized sugar. Glasse instructs her readers how to make it, and, once we’re gone through all the steps for making cullis, we will also share her recipe for this below.

A tammis cloth is a coarse and light cloth used in the 18th century to strain sauces. The term, properly pronounced “tammy,” is derived from the French word tamis for sieve. Nowadays, tammis cloth is used as the ground material for some embroideries and is seldom, if at all, used in cooking.

This technique is best demonstrated by Ryan Kirr of Townsends, manufacturer and retailer of historic, 18th and 19th-century clothing and accessories, in the YouTube clip below:

How to Make A Passing of Flour and Butter

How do you make a passing of flour and water? Glasse’s recipe titled, To make a passing of Flour and Butter for Cullis or Béchamel:

“Put fresh butter into a stewpan over a fire, when it is melted add a sufficient quantity of sifted flour to make it into a paste, and mix them together with a whisk over a very slow fire for ten minutes,” Glasse writes further down in her book.

How to Make a Colored Liquid for Sauces

Also, the instructions for preparing Liquid of Color for Sauces, Etcetera, which Hannah Glasse refers to in her cullis recipe:

“Put a quarter of a pound of the best brown sugar into a frying pan very clean from grease, and half a gill of water,” Glass writes. A gill is an outdated measure that equates to 0.15 liquid quarts and 0.6 U.S. cups.

“Set it over a gentle fire, stirring it with a wooden spoon till it is thoroughly burnt and of a good bright color, then discharge it with water; when it boils skim it and strain it. Put it by for use in a vessel close covered.

By Jim Stonos

When Jim isn't in the kitchen, he is usually spending time with family and friends, and working with the HCW editorial team to answer the questions he used to ask himself back when he was learning the ropes of cooking.