The first time I ever went to Texas was over a winter break many years ago. It was to be a quick trip but when I got to the airport to come back home my flight had been delayed for a few hours because of a snowstorm back East. Snowstorm… in NYC.. what a surprise. I was pretty pissed and just wanted to get back to my NYC apartment and get under the covers watching tv. Being that I was going to be stuck there for a few hours, I think it wound up being 6, I needed to eat. The person I was with, a native of Texas, took me over to the breakfast place they had in the airport. It smelled pretty good of sausage and carbs as we slowly walked over. I figured some scrambled eggs and bacon would hit the spot. Just as I was about to order she says “Have you ever had Biscuits & Gravy”. Now in my Yankee state of mind and upbringing I thought that meant some brown diner gravy with some Pillsbury instant biscuits. The thought kinda grossed me out and I wasn’t drunk yet to get into that. I said “No thanks, that sounds straight up nasty”. Then she proceeded to explain to me what real Biscuits & Gravy was. A very classic poor man’s dish from the South West found in truck stops where buttermilk biscuits are halved and covered with pork sausage cream gravy. It has both German and Cowboy influences and is a perfect example of the first American fusion food.
I placed my order for 3 biscuits smothered in gravy. As I waited I could smell the familiar baked bread smell that is so penetrating to our primitive senses of hunger. The sausage in the gravy was rich with sage, thyme and pepper deeply penetrated my northern sinuses. As I sat down it wasn’t the most appetizing looking dish, it really never is, but I could tell I was in for a treat. The creaminess of the gravy that is loaded with black pepper and bits of pork sausage layered over flaky buttermilk biscuits is a match made in heaven. That first bite was an awakening in Americana cuisine and simplicity. I will never forget that experience and flavor profile as long as I live.
I had spent the next 2-3 years trying to find a similar experience in NYC and to no avail. I hate to tell you but the brunch places in NYC suck at making Biscuits & Gravy… I mean they are all really bad at doing it justice (that means you Enid’s). So I went on a mission to figure out how to make it myself. I tried all sorts of gravy and biscuit recipes and tried combining multiple versions together. Finally I came up with a nice balanced recipe that as many of my friends know has become a staple for brunches at my apartment. Below you will find the recipe that is my go to recipe It will really surprise you in it’s simplicity and turn you into an instant fan of this classic South West dish.
Butter Milk Biscuit Recipe:
I am not going to claim to know how to make the best biscuits. That I will leave up to Alton Brown. He has the best and simplest Buttermilk Biscuit recipe. The only thing that I do different, to make it even easier and faster, is that I do not roll them out but hand form them into little balls in a “drop biscuit” shape and method. I also freeze my butter and shred it in to make the biscuits even fluffier, another Alton Brown trick. This is just a reprint of his recipe which was his grandmother’s and is the best. I really suggest learning this by memory to impress your friends.
- 2 cups flour (3 parts All Purpose flour and 1 part cake flour)
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons butter (I used butter flavored Crisco)
- 2 tablespoons shortening (I used regular Crisco)
- 1 cup buttermilk, chilled
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Using your fingertips, rub butter and shortening into dry ingredients until mixture looks like crumbs. (The faster the better, you don’t want the fats to melt.) Make a well in the center and pour in the chilled buttermilk. Stir just until the dough comes together. The dough will be very sticky. Turn dough onto floured surface, dust top with flour and gently fold dough over on itself 5 or 6 times. Press into a 1-inch thick round. Cut out biscuits with a 2-inch cutter, being sure to push straight down through the dough. Place biscuits on baking sheet so that they just touch. Reform scrap dough, working it as little as possible and continue cutting. (Biscuits from the second pass will not be quite as light as those from the first, but hey, that’s life.) Bake until biscuits are tall and light gold on top, 15 to 20 minutes.
Sausage Cream Gravy Recipe:
There are a couple of main things to keep in mind here. First make sure you buy really good pork based uncooked breakfast sausage. Something that has sage and thyme in it. I purchased mine from Fleisher’s not from the supermarket. Most supermarkets sell precooked breakfast sausage and you just wont get the right fat content to make this recipe work from that kind of sausage. Second using the right pan is important here. There are two schools of thought here… one going with a deep walled cast iron skillet and the other being a nice curved wall saucier pan. The cast iron skillet will give you a more authentic flavor but is not as easy to control heat with. I prefer the saucier pan because as you whisk, and you will be doing alot of whisking, you want to be able to grab up every bit of flour and sausage so that you dont have lump gravy. I mean who likes lumpy gravy… that’s straight up nasty. Lastly make sure to start the biscuits right before you start the gravy so by the time the biscuits are done you will be able to spoon the gravy onto the warm biscuits. Again, nobody likes a cold biscuit.
- 1lb of pork breakfast sausage de-cased and broken up into little 1inch x 1inch bits
- 1.5 cups of whole milk
- 2 tablespoons of fresh thyme
- 1-2 tablespoons of fresh ground pepper (to taste and preference)
- 4 tablespoons of flour in a small bowl
- salt to taste
Preheat your pan over a medium heat for about 2-3 minutes. Once heated drop in your sausage bits and mix around as they sizzle. The goal here is to get all the fat rendered out and get the sausage bits semi-crispy. So make sure to take your time, about 5-7 minutes. Once you see a good bit of fat in the pan (about 3-5 tablespoons) remove the sausage onto a paper towel to drain. Bring the heat down to a medium low and sprinkle in the fresh thyme till it activates a bit with the fat, not burns, for about a minute. Next have your whisk in one hand and the flour in your other hand as you slowly sprinkle about 1/4 of the flour whisking it as it hits the fat. Once it is full incorporated do this 1/4 at a time until you and a 1/4 left in the bowl and set aside. Make sure your “roux” mixture is not to dark or too light. Go for a yellow color not brown. Now slowly pour in your milk and whisk at a steady pace so that it does not lump up while reducing the heat to low. This should be done for 2-3 minutes at a steady pace. Keep whisking as it continues to thicken up and add in 1 table spoon of black pepper in. Keep whisking for another minute or so and put in the drained sausage bits. You will notice it thickening up a bit more but if it does not this is the time to add the remaining flour in and raise the heat a bit to “force” the gravy to thicken over the next 1-2 minutes. Once you get to a nice consistency give a taste and add more salt and pepper to taste. I tend to go a little buck wild with the pepper at this point because you can never have enough. To assemble simple half the biscuits with a fork, place on a dish and pour the gravy over them.
You will notice that although not being very pretty this is pure Americana comfort food. It resonates of what we picture up southern food being about and the satisfaction it brings us. The fat, carbs and spices make up that perfect dish for a hangover brunch or when you just feel like cheating on your diet. Enjoy!