Emile's comment the other day made me realize that biscuits and gravy could easily be misinterpreted as some outlandish concoction, especially if you translate the American biscuit for an English one and gravy for eh...gravy. It's not a biscuit and it's not gravy, at least not how you know it overseas. Trust me.
Here in America it's a regular item for breakfast, both at home and in restaurants, but I understand the confusion. Notes from a travel journal I kept on a trip to Memphis in the mid-nineties (yes, that was last century!) reads: "This morning we're eating breakfast at a large family restaurant. It's possible to order off the menu but most guests are gathered around the breakfast buffet, loading up their plates with the most bizarre combinations. The pancakes here are as thick as roof tiles and some of the items on the buffet line would do well to appear for dinner, but surely not for breakfast? Fried rice, shredded potatoes? And the most bizarre thing of all, regardless of what's on their plate, each guest is sure to ladle spoonfuls of some off-white, lumpy sauce on top."
Well, that off-white, lumpy sauce back then was gravy. I did not know it then and when I finally moved to the United States and figured it out, I avoided the stuff like the plague. It looked lumpy and pasty and I was convinced it would taste like wallpaper paste. I tried my hand at biscuits once but they emerged from the oven like hockey pucks so that was that. I shelved the whole "biscuits and gravy" thing away as one of those American things I'd never understand, like root beer and corn dogs.
Fast forward to last Spring. Talking about food one day with my friend Luke from West Virginia, he mentioned that his were the best biscuits and gravy. I was sceptical but was willing to give it a try. What can I say? The man was right. The biscuits were buttery, tender and flaky and the sausage gravy warm, spicy and comforting. To this day, I cannot make them as fluffy and buttery as he does but they'll do.
The key is, for the biscuits, to not overwork the dough: the less you handle it, the better. Easy to say, harder to do for a breadbaking fool like me, but I manage to restrain myself and just pat the whole thing together. As for the gravy.....get good quality sausage and make sure you cook the gravy long enough to get rid of the flour taste.
Biscuits and gravy
For the biscuits
1 cup of all purpose flour
1 tablespoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons of cold butter
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon of sour cream
1 tablespoon melted butter
Mix the first three ingredients, cut in the cold butter and stir in the buttermilk and the sour cream. Carefully fold the dough several times until it comes together (four or five folds will do) and pat into a rectangle on a lightly floured countertop. Take a glass or a cup that has the circumference for the biscuits you want (average of 3 inches will do just fine) and cut rounds out of the dough. In the meantime, heat the oven to 400F. Melt the two tablespoons of butter in the oven dish. Take each biscuit and carefully place it face down into the butter, then flip it over so that the butter-covered side is up. Continue until the dish is full but not crowded. Bake the biscuits golden-brown in about 12-15 minutes.
For the gravy
8 oz of mild pork sausage
8 oz of spicy pork sausage
2 tablespoons of flour
1/2 cup of milk
Fry both sausage meats in a skillet until it's crumbly and cooked. Sprinkle the flour over the meat, stir several times, then slowly stir in the milk. Keep stirring, making sure you get all the crunchy bits off the bottom of the pan until the sauce thickens. Taste and adjust the flavor if needed.