Saturday, August 24, 2013

Chef Steven's rules for sausage gravy

After four decades of cooking in military, institutional and camp kitchens, I've learned to follow a number of personal cooking rules. As self-imposed culinary guidelines, they help me prepare and serve great food to my diners, whether at home or in camp. These rules provide consistency each time I prepare a dish.

Earlier this summer, the camp director asked my if I could prepare a "mean" biscuits and gravy. Up to the challenge, we set a date where I could premier biscuits and gravy. I took my standard biscuits and gravy recipe, modified it to use a butter and flour roux (previously, I stirred the flour in with the crumbled sausage meat) and presented camp-made biscuits with my chef's sausage gravy to the staff in mid-May.

Beginning in the third week of June, we presented scratch buttermilk biscuits and rich sausage gravy to the campers every other week. By request, I broke my "pork only" rule to prepare turkey sausage gravy for our largest camp (alongside pork sausage gravy) at the end of July. I came away validating my rule. Campers selected pork gravy three times as often as they did turkey gravy! (The same held true for real bacon vs. turkey bacon!)

Here are my rules for great sausage gravy:
  • Crumble, finely chop or grind the sausage. Diced sausage may look good on the plate. But it's the fine pieces that carry flavor into the gravy. Throughout the summer, I used pre-cooked patties with success. Grinding partially thawed patties in the food processor gave it the texture I was looking for.
  • Don't skip on the milk. The fat in whole milk adds body and richness to the gravy. If you must, drink two percent or skim milk in a glass, not in the gravy. Whole milk works best. And a little cream makes even richer gravy! Unfortunately to some, good gravy isn't low in fat!
  • A butter roux is the best thickening agent for gravy. Leave the cornstarch to pudding cookery, where its magic sheen works best. And don't forget to cook out the flour taste in the roux.
  • Traditional American breakfast sausage works best for traditional American biscuits and gravy. Use pork sausage, not beef. SOS is made with beef, not pork. Though related, they're not the same.
  • Think long and hard before adding a new ingredient or two the gravy. I've successfully worked a modest amount of roasted diced red peppers into my gravy. Leave the mushrooms for a great mushroom sauce or pasta dish. They don't belong in sausage gravy.
  • The best biscuits are made from scratch. Develop a good recipe and stick to it.
Oh yes, there's one final rule: Good sausage gravy must leave a mild case of heartburn, especially when cased with several mugs of coffee. Sorry; it's a rule!

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