Thursday, October 09, 2014

Throwback Thursday: Frank's killer breakfast

Today's throwback blends two posts from August 2005. Frank and his lovely wife, Ann, have since moved to Boise, Idaho, and have become grandparents. Debbie and I need to travel north and hold a reunion camping trip.

All camp cooks savor a day off from the kitchen. Yesterday was my day off. My duty was to make coffee, lounge beside the campfire and dish out advice. A buddy handled all culinary tasks.
Jacob and I went camping with Frank and Hunter Friday evening.

We spent the night at Wench Creek Campground on the east shore of Union Valley Reservoir in Eldorado National Forest. Camping is pleasant now that the heat wave has subsided in the Sacramento Valley. Friday’s high was about 75 degrees. The overnight low was 50.

Frank prepared a killer breakfast for us. He got up about 45 minutes ahead of me Saturday morning. Frank had a good bed of coals for cooking by the time I got up at 6:30 a.m.
Frank’s breakfast is hearty -- an epicurean contradiction -- good tasting and not-so-good for you, all in one setting. A carpenter and general contractor by trade, he cooked  breakfast in two large cast iron skillets, each course in succession. He normally cooks breakfast in one skillet. When Frank told he about breakfast plans last week, I threw in an extra skillet.

Bacon and sausage patties and links inaugurated the morning meat-egg-potatoes fest. Then in quick succession, Frank fried potatoes to a crisp in the bacon fat and scrambled eggs, again in bacon fat. Lastly he cooked gravy from more bacon grease, flour and milk.

Build a roaring cookfire. I follow two rules: First, build a fire that’s twice to three times the size that you think you need. In pine and cedar country it’s easy to underestimate the amount of wood.

The second rule is equally important. Keep the fire going and avoid the tendency to let it burn out once you start cooking. Otherwise Murphy’s Law steps in and kills any further plans for breakfast.

"I love the smell of bacon in the morning."
Use this time to dice the potatoes, crack and whisk the eggs and form sausage patties. The fire will take 30 to 45 minutes to burn down to a nice bed of coals. Don’t forget to add fresh wood as the fire burns.

With the fire ready, it’s time to cook breakfast. I said that Frank cooks each course in succession. The bacon goes into the first pre-heated skillet.

Push the bacon aside if you’re using a large skillet (14 inches or larger) and add sausage patties to the skillet. You may want to cook the bacon and sausage in batches if you’re using a smaller skillet. Once browned to the desire color, the move the meat waiting plate covered with a double layer of paper towel. (I’m not sure why the paper towels are necessary—you’re going consume enough grease to worry your cardiologist!)

Don’t discard any of the rendered bacon fat. Frank divides it between three dishes (health warnings aside). The potatoes, eggs and gravy all receive generous portions of the swine nectar.

You're allowed to break one egg yoke over a campfire.
A pot-full of diced potatoes are next poured into the meat skillet. Watch for splattering grease! Crumble a few bacon strips and sausage patties into the potatoes if desired.

Fifteen to 20 minutes over a hot fire will crisp the potatoes to a nice golden color. Move the skillet to a cooler spot over the fire. Stir the potatoes occasionally to keep them from burning.

At this point, turn your attention to the scrambled eggs. It’s important to pre-heat the egg skillet over a medium fire. Otherwise, you’ll burn the eggs and ruin breakfast.

Slow cooking is best for the eggs. Stick around once you pour the whipped eggs into the skillet. They require constant stirring until cooked. Frank never left the fire until the eggs were cooked.

The secret to moist scrambled eggs is to cook them over low heat. Remove the eggs when they’re still moisture seeping out. Remember, overcooked eggs in the skillet become overcooked eggs on the plate.

Place the eggs into a waiting bowl, cover with a sheet of foil and wipe the skillet clean. The pour the remaining bacon fat into the skillet and return it to medium heat. Next place enough flour into the skillet to absorb the fat. (You’ll have to judge quantities for yourself.)

Stir the roux for a few minutes over a low flame, being careful not to brown it. The last step before breakfast is to pour three or four cups of milk into the gravy skillet. Stir constantly for about 10 minutes to work the lumps out. Once the gravy thickens, you’re ready to eat.

Give the potatoes a quick stir just before serving. Warm potatoes, eggs and gravy are a must. And pour gravy over the potatoes and eggs. After all, gravy is the culinary elixir that brings the whole meal together.

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