Biscuits and Gravy

I read recently that one of the new “in” things to have at wedding receptions is a gravy fountain with biscuits on the side. Really?

The article didn’t actually get into the specifics, but I assume that they were talking about “white,” or sausage gravy, which is the appropriate complement for biscuits, rather than “brown,” meat gravy, which is not.

My wife, Katie, would be appalled, seeing as how she thinks white gravy, in and of itself, is revolting to look at (although she managed to try a smidgen of my home made gravy and said it tasted “OK”).

I, too, would be appalled, because gravy for biscuits should never be thin enough to flow out of a fountain. And by that, I mean that the best gravy is thick enough to spread with a knife. I think that our baker daughter, Liza, would agree with me.

Beyond the issue of the desired viscosity, however, is the problem that most people making gravy are in too much of a hurry and don’t properly brown the flour as they heat the roux, resulting in a raw pasty, floury flavor. And there is always the risk of lumps.

Gravy is a combination of animal fat and flour (called “roux”), and liquid. Oh, and salt and pepper, too. The nature of the fat and liquid determine the color and flavor of the gravy. As a service to all, here are instructions on how to make proper white, sausage gravy.

  1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  2. When the skillet is hot, add a pound of mild breakfast sausage, breaking it up into small chunks, then, using the end or edge of a spatula, chop it into smaller and smaller pieces as it cooks. Stir frequently and allow it to brown. Don’t stop too soon: the sausage will turn gray as it gives up its water, but it won’t brown until all the water has evaporated, leaving only the fat.
  3. When the sausage has browned, remove it from the skillet with a slotted spoon, and place in a bowl for use later. It helps to tilt the skillet so the fat runs to the lower part while pushing the sausage to the upper part. If you don’t end up with at least ¼ cup of fat, you’re using the wrong brand of sausage. (I prefer Jamestown Mild, myself.)
  4. Pour the fat into a clean metal container. (An empty tuna can is ideal, because it has shallow sides and you can get a measuring spoon into it without tipping it over.)
  5. Return the skillet to medium-high heat and add 3 to 5 tablespoons of fat. (Obviously, the more fat, the more flour and liquid).
  6. For each tablespoon of fat, add one tablespoon of flour. (3 tablespoons of fat; 3 tablespoons of flour – and so on) For every tablespoon of fat, you will (later) add up to 1 cup of liquid
  7. Stir the flour into the fat using the end of the spatula, making sure that all the fat is absorbed into the flour as it cooks. Keep stirring until the flour actually turns brownish – but don’t let it burn.
  8. After the flour is browned, CAREFULLY AND SLOWLY add a cup of water (it sizzles and steams and splashes), stirring constantly to ensure that the roux absorbs the liquid without forming lumps. It helps to use a slotted spatula to “smash” the roux and water to keep it smooth.
  9. As the gravy simmers, gradually add whole milk (not 2% and certainly NOT skim!). If you started with 3 tablespoons of fat, use up to 2 cups of milk – you already added 1 cup of water. Stir and smash continuously as you add the milk, to ensure even cooking and to keep lumps from forming as the gravy thickens.
  10. Let the gravy simmer (keep stirring, scraping the bottom of the skillet, and smashing any lumps) until it is about the consistency of thickish pancake batter (oozy, not drippy). Add salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste.
  11. Remove from heat and stir in the cooked sausage. Serve with the most marvelous biscuits you can manage. I recommend Liza’s biscuits, but I don’t have her recipe.

About Jesse

My name is Jesse Blatt. My first name is actually “Ramon,” but I haven’t used that name, except for official purposes, since 1970. I have a high school diploma and a PhD…nothing in between. I’ll get around to explaining that in a post sometime. From time to time I will be posting true stories from my past, though not in any special order. I’ve been fortunate to have had a dozen or so different careers, most of them very satisfying, some fairly frustrating, and none that I wish had never happened. In my many former lives, I have been a mail clerk, radio and TV engineer, radio announcer, electronics engineer, college instructor, psychologist, research consultant, Federal employee, supervisor of research professionals, computer programmer, web designer, instructional designer, construction site handyman, and carpenter, not necessarily in that order.
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