Monday, October 05, 2009

Sunday Morning Decadence: Biscuits and Gravy

It's hard to think about buying good quality items when you are on a tight budget. And for me, especially these days, I would rather go without something than compromise on an inferior product.

Bacon is one of those items. I love thick, country-style, maple or applewood smoked bacon. I like it so much better than the commercial brands that I would rather not have it at all than make do with something that I know I will not like half as much. If I am going to eat something that is bad for me, I like to make it as good a quality as I can so I can fully savor the experience, since I rarely let myself indulge in it.

There was a thread that got started in the cooking newsgroup that I will periodically read on biscuits and gravy. This was of great interest to me since I have been making so many biscuits lately and I am a huge fan of biscuits and gravy, although I will not let myself have them very often, and I have never made them. Reading the thread made me decide it was time to rectify that situation, so I started looking for a good pork sausage.

But all I found at the grocery store was a tube of Bob Evans' sausage or fancier brands that offered chicken and apple sausages, or apricot ginger breakfast links, all of which sounded good but were more than I was looking for in a biscuit and gravy breakfast, and I didn't want it badly enough to make an extra trip to a meat market.

I had just about given up on the idea when I noticed some misshapen packages next to the Dreymiller & Kray Maple Smoked extra thickly-sliced bacon last Saturday. I looked closer, and this is what I found:

I had heard of it, but never before seen it. After bacon producers trim the bacon slabs to get all of those nice even slices that they package and sell, there are all kinds of odds and ends left over, which they will put together and sell for a much lower price than those nice attractive evenly sliced packages. This package of ends was about half the price of the regular slices.

I decided to go for biscuits and bacon gravy and threw the package into my shopping cart. When I got home, I opened it up and examined what I had. Most of what was in the package were little bits and pieces, some mostly fat and some mostly meat, that looked like they would be good for flavoring (fat) and topping (meat). The mostly meat pieces also were what I chose to use for making my gravy. There were also a couple of larger, decent-sized pieces that could actually be used as bacon.

I made a fresh batch of biscuits, and then got started on the gravy.

I used the bigger of the mostly-meat pieces. I chopped them into smaller pieces and put them in the skillet to render the fat. They cooked up beautifully, and gave off the most wondrous aroma of smoky maple bacon-y goodness. There is no other smell in the world like it, as I'm sure you know.

I was going to drain off all but about two tablespoons of the bacon fat when the bacon was cooked, but there wasn't that much fat there, I guess because I used the pieces that were mostly meat. There was only about two tablespoons in all, so I just added two tablespoons of flour and cooked it for a minute or two to get rid of the raw flour taste.

I slowly added a cup of cold milk, stirring constantly so as to avoid lumps. I must confess that I did get a lump or two, but after stirring it vigorously I managed to get rid of them. What I have heard is that you should add a cold liquid to a hot roux, and hot liquid to a cold roux. I have had good and bad results with any method I've used, however.

I cooked the gravy, stirring frequently, until it started to thicken and was almost to the consistency I wanted. I turned the heat as low as it would go and let the gravy simmer while I fried my eggs. I would occasionally check the gravy, and if it was starting to get too thick I would add a little bit of milk to thin it out. I think I had to add milk three times in all before I was ready to use it.

I split two biscuits and put them on a plate, and then I spooned the gravy over them. I laid the fried eggs over that, and served them with hash browns. It was one of the best breakfasts I have had in just about forever - actually as good as if not better than any I've ordered in a restaurant. And really not that much trouble. Perfect for a lazy Sunday morning when making breakfast is the most labor-intensive thing you have to do for the day. And I had enough left over for Monday morning's breakfast. The gravy will thicken into a solid blob in the refrigerator; just add more milk, a little at a time, and reheat it back to the desired consistency.

I put the rest of the ends and pieces into several freezer bags and put them in the freezer for later use. I have enough of the meaty bits for another batch of biscuits and gravy, and it is really hard to concentrate on anything else around here for the enticing lure of their siren call.

NOTE: Can be made with bacon or sausage

1/4 to 1/3 lb. bacon pieces, or sausage
2 Tbsp flour
1 cup milk, plus more as needed
salt and pepper to taste*

Heat bacon in skillet over medium heat. Cook until well browned and most of the fat has been rendered out of the meat. Drain all but 2 tablespoons of the fat. Add the flour and stir constantly for a minute or two. Gradually add the milk, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook, still stirring frequently, until the gravy starts to thicken. Once it has reached the desired thickness, serve immediately. If you are not ready to use it immediately, turn the heat as low as it will go and let it simmer, checking frequently and adding a small amount of milk (a tablespoon or so) at a time as needed to thin it out.

The gravy can be stored in the refrigerator but it will get thick and gluey. To reuse, simply reheat it, adding milk in small amounts until it gets back to the desired consistency.

*taste before adding the salt - the bacon or sausage will already be salty.

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