Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Biscuits & Gravy, Breakfast of Champions

Blogger's Note: Biscuits and Gravy were something this blogger's mama introduced early in life.  The warm buttery crannies soak up the rich and saucy gravy in a heavenly concoction that has warmed the bellies of soldiers and patriots alike through our nation's history.  Louisiana has two variations uniquely its own: Biscuits & Chocolate Gravy and Biscuits & Red-Eye Gravy.  The latter was said to be invented by a cook in Stonewall Jackson's army as a hangover cure.  However, when it comes to this American classic, we tend to think of a traditional sausage gravy over homemade biscuits, recipe included.  Enjoy!

(Above): Biscuits and Gravy have filled stomachs through hard times in history when supplies were scarce.

From the Cooking With Mama website:

"Early European settlers in the United States brought with them a simple and easy style of cooking. After the American War of Independence a meal emerged for people wanting breakfast. The supplies were very short and it had to be cheap. So came the biscuits and gravy. It was prepared in many different ways at first. There was the scrambled eggs fried in bacon grease and adding flour to it. Boiling a brown gravy mix and adding beaten eggs. There was also a concoction called chipped beef with gravy."

(Above): Real, old-fashioned sausage gravy.

From the Jim Long's Columns website:

"Pigs were brought to Jamestown, Virginia in 1608, but had actually arrived on the continent a full century earlier with the first Spanish explorers. As the Spaniards looked for gold, some of those early hogs went feral in Florida and Georgia and became the early razorback hogs of the South. Because wild hogs were plentiful, and a pest, and domestic hogs became a staple on Southern farms, sausage became a base for a variety of foods, but most especially, sausage gravy. You couldn’t find a meal better than sausage gravy on biscuits to feed a large family and it became a staple of poor food all across the South and into the Midwest.

Biscuits and gravy can vary greatly by region. Head down to into Mississippi and you’ll encounter tomato gravy. It likely shows the influence of the early French in the region before the Louisiana Purchase. It requires approximately 4 tablespoons of bacon drippings, 4 tablespoons of flour, 2 large chopped-up tomatoes and about 2 cups of cold water. Once made, some cooks add crumbled bacon before spreading it over hot buttermilk biscuits.

If you head down south into Arkansas, into Mississippi and northern Louisiana, you’ll encounter a completely different gravy served on biscuits - chocolate gravy. This is a truly Southern dish served as both a breakfast meal or sometimes served as a dessert in the evening. Chocolate gravy is made with 3/4 cup sugar, 3 tablespoons of flour, 1 level teaspoon of cocoa and a cup and a half of water. Once that’s boiled together and thickened, a touch of vanilla is added. It’s typically served over lavishly-buttered buttermilk biscuits.

The traditional red-eye gravy was born in the 1840s on a battlefield. A drunken, hung-over cook for General Andrew Jackson, poured hot coffee into ham juices and brownings from frying the ham and served it up on biscuits without having added flour to thicken it. Soon cooks all across the South were cooking up "The General's red-eye gravy."

(Above): A plate of traditional style Biscuits and Sausage Gravy.

Old Fashioned Biscuits and Gravy Recipe
1 pound sausage (mild or hot)
3 tablespoons flour
Salt and lots of black pepper
2 to 3 cups milk

Crumble the raw sausage in a hot cast iron frying pan. Fry the sausage until there is no pink left. Add flour 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring quickly until a paste forms. Then add milk, 1 cup at a time. Stir briskly and cook the mixture until it thickens. Then pour it over fresh-baked buttermilk biscuits, split in half, buttered or not.

(Above): Drop biscuits or rolled, your choice!

And the biscuits? You can buy those canned, frozen, instant or bakery-made but the old-fashioned biscuit is as follows:

2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons lard or other shortening
1 cup buttermilk, chilled

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
In a mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients. With your fingertips, rub butter and shortening into dry ingredients until mixture looks like crumbs. Pour in the chilled buttermilk and stir to mix. Turn dough onto floured surface, dust with flour and fold dough over on itself 4 or 5 times. Roll out with a rolling pin or quart fruit jar until the dough is about an inch thick. Cut out biscuits with 2-inch cutter and place biscuits on a baking sheet so the biscuits are just touching. Bake until golden and fluffy, about 15-20 minutes.