Saturday, December 24, 2011

Buttermilk biscuits and sausage gravy for a crowd

Nothing says breakfast more than a tall buttermilk biscuit smothered in sausage gravy. It seems every breakfast joint serves its own version of the classic American breakfast dish. Bert's Cafe, located an hours drive from home in South Lake Tahoe, serves the best sausage gravy in El Dorado County.

I often judge a restaurant by its biscuits and gravy. Any joint that serves frozen biscuits and packaged gravy doesn't deserve a repeat visit. I'll reward any place that takes the time to mix scratch biscuits and crumble real sausage into milk gravy with repeat business. There's nothing like the genuine product.

Since I rarely cook breakfast at work, I've wanted to perfect my sausage gravy for some time. I mastered buttermilk biscuits years ago. A rich sausage flavor is a must in my gravy. And the gravy should be thick, full bodied and void of any flour aftertaste. I insist on whole milk, a roux cooked into the sausage and the right mix of onions, Worcestershire sauce and seasonings.

Last week's Christmas breakfast potluck for employees gave me the right opportunity to test my newest version of biscuits and gravy. I modeled the gravy after the dish I ate in South Lake Tahoe the summer before last. The chef worked roasted red peppers into the sauce. It was the best tasting sausage gravies that I've had.


This recipe will serve 25 heafty portions or 50 more modest portions. You can use your favorite biscuit recipe if desired. Don't skimp on the milk. While lowfat or nonfat milk may shave a few calories off the finish product, you loose the richness provided by the extra fat in the milk.

2 pounds all-purpose flour (baker's percent: 50%)
2 pounds pastry flour (50%)
3 ounces granulated sugar (5%)
1-1/4 ounces table salt (2%)
3-1/4 ounces baking powder (5%)
1/2 ounce baking soda (1%)
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1-3/8 pounds shortening (35%)
2-5/8 pounds buttermilk (65%)

12 ounces pork sausage
12 ounces spicy pork sausage
1 cup minced onion
3/4 cup minced red bell pepper
12 ounces all-purpose flour
1 gallon whole milk
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons beef base (optional)
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

FOR BUTTERMILK BISCUITS: Combine flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and baking soda in mixer bowl. Mix on low speed until blended, approximately 10 seconds, using flat beater. Add shortening to flour mixture. Mix on low speed for 1 minute. Stop and scrape sides and bottom of bowl. Mix 1 minute longer. The mixture will be crumbly. Add buttermilk. Mix on low speed to form a soft dough, about 30 seconds. Do not over mix. Dough should be as soft as can be handled.

Place dough on lightly floured board or table. Knead lightly 15-20 times. Roll to 3/4-inch thickness. Biscuits will approximately double in height during baking. Cut with a 2-inch cutter, or cut into 2- inch squares with a knife. When using round hand cutters, cut straight down and do not twist to produce the best shape. Space the cuts close together to minimize scraps. Use of a roller cutter or cutting the dough into squares eliminates or reduces scraps. The scraps can be rerolled, but the biscuits may not be as tender.

Place on ungreased baking sheets 1/2-inch apart for crusty biscuits, just touching for softer biscuits. Repeat, using remaining dough. Bake at 425°F for 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Biscuits may be held 2-3 hours in the refrigerator until time to bake.

FOR SAUSAGE BRAVY: In a 8- to 10-quart stockpot or braiser, add sausage and cook until browned and cooked through. Drain grease and add onion and red pepper to sausage. Continue cooking until onion softens.

Add flour and cook over medium-high heat until the sausage is well-coated with the flour. Add milk and Worcestershire sauce and stir until desired thickness. Season with salt, beef base (if used) and pepper, to taste.

The recipe prepares 50 (2-inch) biscuits and 5 quarts of gravy. Serve 3 ounces gravy over each split biscuit.

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