Saturday, April 25, 2009

Breakfast Sausage Party!

I love sausage a lot more than it deserves to be loved. In a purely gustatory way, mind you, not that there's anything wrong with that. Just thinking about its steaming meaty stiffness, the burst of juices in my mouth, the fatty drizzle as I prick it with my fork... well, never mind. With the better stuff, you can at least pretend it's made from identifiable cuts of meat, but as far as I'm concerned, a nice succulent and spicy Italian pork sausage with plenty of mystery gristle is where it's at. (My good wife sensibly disagrees, although the homogenized turkey product she insists we buy instead is hardly a substitute. If I'm planning on a Saturday meal when she's working, then sometimes I'll go out of my way to get my greasy hands on the store-made snouts-and-tails special.)

On the other side of the Mason-Dixon line, they know how to breakfast, I'll give them that. A land that laughs in the face of heartburn. When I travel, I try to be sure to pick up biscuits and gravy if I get a chance, although like a number of staples, I've got my own thing going by this point, and tend to be slightly disappointed on the outside. Mine's a healthy beige, instead of paste-white, and gets a little more flavor going than pepper and Jimmy Dean.

Also, there's little excuse not to make your own baking powder biscuits. It's a hell of a lot easier than making real bread, and it's well worth avoiding that tangy evil that comes in a prepared package. (And there is just no logical excuse for the existence of BisquickTM, for that matter: inferior result for the exact same amount of work.) Which isn't to say that there's not still a touch. My wife's biscuits are consistently more attractive than mine, but I can, uh, wield the sausage in an well-practiced but imprecise way that she simply can't match. It makes every biscuits-and-gravy morning like the Gift of the Magi.

A lot of times we'll do this when there are either leftover biscuits or leftover sausage. If you use fresh sausage (I like "breakfast" or Italian, but no doubt you can experiment here), then use the oil evolved from the sausage for the recipe, and go easy on any extra herbs (except the thyme). I'm going to assume that you're using leftovers, or forced, like me, to make turkey taste like something. When I make this basic bechemel sort of sauce, I don't worry about how much oil (it's the flour/water ratio that gets your thickness, and the oil is just to disperse the flour first--a little extra won't kill it), stir the flour in it, and then add liquid until I get to the consistency I want. That way is easier than measuring. (Baking, you do have to measure.)

The recipe for the sausage gravy came originally from a Sheila Lukins cookbook, and the biscuits came from Mom, but of course I've fucked with them both. Buttermilk has a nice flavor in this, and it's great with baking powder breads--a little extra acid to get that nice bit of, um, fluffing everybody likes.

The gravy might get a little skin, but if you don't have a wife, make that first. The biscuits are too good hot out of the oven.

Sausage Gravy
- 1/2 to 1 pound (I am pretty sure I normally go on the low end) of turkey sausage or leftover sausage
(Or you know, use the good shit, and skip the next few ingredients, up till the flour. I try to add my spices to compensate for lesser links.)
- three or four tablespoons of fat (Often I'll use butter, olive oil, and chicken fat skimmed off the frozen stock, in roughly equal parts. But it's all good.)
- about a teaspoon of ground coriander
- about half a teaspoon of fennel seeds (if you like them)
- about a teaspoon of fresh black pepper
- about a quarter teaspoon of ground red pepper
- half an onion
- 1-2 cloves of garlic
- 3 tablespoons flour (or so...I use a little less than the quarter cup that sits in the flour bin)
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup of chicken broth (if you must use a can, add the whole friggin can, and then hardly any milk)
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup of milk or cream (basically, you add it until you have the texture you want when it's hot)
1-2 tsp fresh thyme

Cook the sausage and onions together in a pan, adding as much fat as you need. (If you use fresh good sausage, rinse the pan with water and cook them slowly. You probably won't add any fat.) You should have maybe 3-4 tablespoons of fat when they're done. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the spices.

Add the flour, and stir it until dissolved (and pasty). Turn up the heat and quickly stir in the stock until the liquid is thick and homogeneous, add the thyme. Mix in the milk until you get the consistency you want when it's hot and bubbly. Turn the heat to low, and wait for the biscuits.

Baking Powder Biscuits
- 2 c. flour
- 3 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tablespoons cold butter
- 2 tablespoons vegetable shortening
- 1 c. buttermilk.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Sift all the dry ingredients into a bowl. Add the shortening and butter, and cut it in. (In the past, I've advocated doing this with your hands, but my wife uses a pastry cutter, and her version comes out better. So do that. When she's done, it's pretty well cut in, it appears about as granular as road sand (an analogy no good southerner would make, by the way).)

Add the buttermilk, and mix as little as it takes to just blend it. Drop the sticky dough onto a well floured surface (MGW uses waxed paper here, easier to remove and clean up), and press to about 3/4 to 1 inch thick (this is critical! Too thin here, and you get dusty hockey pucks). Cut circles with a cookie cutter or a floured, upside-down glass. (Mom says don't twist. I've never figured out if this is bullshit or not.)

Bake 12-15 minutes. They should be just golden brown. When you open the biscuits, they ought to flakily split down the center (making two skinny pucks), and steam awesomely. Split them, and spread the gravy over the tops. Don't forget to visit your heart surgeon in thirty years.


artandsoul said...

Terrific recipe! I can taste it from just reading it!

My daughter was committed to vegetarianism ... for political and animal nicety perspectives. She refused hamburgers, steaks, chicken of all kinds, fish. She was stalwart.

Until one day, after about two years, we were at a greasy spoon down by the coast and I wasn't paying attention til the food came and her plate as loaded with biscuits and smothered in sausage gravy.

When I raised my eyebrows she said "Mom, I did my best, but I just couldn't resist it one more day."

I had no idea she fought that daily battle with a craving for biscuits and gravy!

(oh, we do love south of the M&D line - it must be in the DNA)

Keifus said...

Oh, I can definitely understand that, both the motive to go non-animal and the reason to stray. My brother and his wife eventually escaped from the clutches of vegetarianism for more or less the same reason. I think it was steaks and Pacific salmon that did her in. (Everything in moderation, I say, especially anything that ends in "ianism".)

Thanks for the link to the alterna-roses down there too. I may check 'em out.

twif said...

i have no problem eating other animals. it's not like large predators would worry about eating me (given the chance).

humans are omnivores. meat is part of our diet and necessary for our health. should it be eaten in moderation? sure. veggies are necessary too. but if you are going to remove it from your diet you have to figure out how to replace the protein and other nutrients. it's difficult.

what really gets me is the hard-core vegan types who decide that, not only will they not eat meat, but their dogs and cats won't either. to me, that is animal cruelty. do try and make a carnivore a fucking vegan because you think it is wrong. your pet does not share your political views.

artandsoul said...

twif- I agree! And I'm not sure how to reconcile that whole "I'm against the violence of meat eaters so I think I'll blow up your office building."

Seems a bit of a stretch.

catnapping said...

God, my mouth is watering. I love biscuits and gravy. And I love both "breakfast" and Italian sausage.

But for biscuits and gravy, it's the regular ol' pork breakfast sausage for me. And lotsa real butter on those biscuits, too, please.