Friday, April 17, 2009

Biscuits & Gravy (10/13)


The first time I ever ate biscuits and gravy was during an aerobics class. I love telling this story.

I went to a high school that required 2.5 years of physical education classes. I think to those older than I this would be ridiculous (as opposed to four years) and to some of my contemporaries a bit excessive (many schools require two years). So to avoid being forced to take some random physical course my junior year, I chose to take a summer class with my aerobics teacher. It would be a four hour class, Monday-Friday, and I'd have a year's worth of credit just like that!

Luckily for me, this teacher was very easygoing and a fun person to be around. And because I went to high school in a city near the ocean, to change things up a bit she'd have us meet at the beach for class to walk along the water--an area known as The Strand, a beautiful stretch of pavement for pedestrians, athletes and gawkers that extends primarily from Redondo Beach, through Hermosa Beach to Manhattan Beach.

We'd meet at our spot every day and start walking from one end to the other. We may have done a bit of exercise on the beach itself, but I remember mostly the stroll down the Strand. When she'd dismiss the class we'd sometimes rendezvous (herself included) at some nearby diner or restaurant for lunch, and one day that place happened to be Scotty's on the Strand.

Initially the concept, frankly, grossed me out. It still does in that oh so good way, but come on. It's two buttery biscuits that have been halved, smothered in gravy and served usually along with some sausage. Not exactly beach fare. I'm glad I would wear sweats, but let's just say that I didn't exactly lose weight the summer I decided to take an aerobics class. (Other excursions included a burger joint, where I'd indulge in a crusty grilled cheese on sourdough. I have no regrets.)

And I can't imagine myself ever making this had I not seen The Pioneer Woman's disgustingly delicious-looking recipe for it, and I had to just give in like I did that summer before my junior year. I've accepted the fact that I'm the type of person who gains weight when she takes an exercise class.

It's not too much of a recipe, really. The basic idea is to take the fat from the sausage you've cooked and make a roux with it by adding enough flour for a paste. This is cooked for a bit to remove any raw flour taste and then milk is steadily whisked in to make a sauce (gravy), which is then liberally seasoned and spooned over the biscuits you've baked.

Start by cooking some sausage. This is spicy pork sausage, but any should work (assuming it's fatty; that apple chicken sausage might not be the best for this dish). You'll probably have more success if you cook the kind without casing or remove the casing, because you want to release all the fat that's being held in there.

Gettin' there.

Yeah, that'll work. I got too impatient and broke up the sausage to try to coax that lovely fat out. Shoulda removed the casing.

Remove the sausage and leave the fat in the pan. There isn't too much here but if you have a lot, you'll want to pour it out and add back the amount needed.

To make a roux directly in the pan, eyeball the amount of fat and add the equivalent of that in flour. This means for the tablespoonish of fat in my pan I'd whisk a tablespoon of flour and let it all get coated by the grease. If you've poured the fat out, it's easy to measure equal amounts. You're going for a stirrable paste that is not too dry or too wet. Once the flour is added let the roux cook a little. It'll start to deepen in color. Keep whisking.

Whisking constantly, slowly pour in milk 1 cup at a time. I'd say 1 tablespoon of fat with a tablespoon of butter should need roughly 1 cup of milk, so work with that ratio. The consistency you're going for is a bit thinner than a traditional gravy, because the heat will thicken your sauce quite a bit as it sits on the heat. Taste and season liberally; because you've just diluted your roux with a bunch of milk it'll taste pretty bland--I mean Ann. Once it's gotten a chance to set up and bask in its fatty glory you've got some creamy gravy on your hands! No literally, like all over your hands. Don't ask me how gravy has that effect. In any case, go crazy!

Or just spoon over biscuits and serve. Try not to eat too many. Well, do whatever you want. But seriously, you might regret it. In your stomach, not your heart.

One thing I've learned about biscuits & gravy is that it gets cold fast and most stomachs can't handle too much of this too quickly. Make and serve only what you think you can eat immediately, because the gravy cools down at the end while you're still working your way through the front. It helps to have other people, as long as they are nice people. Enjoy!

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