Hello everyone, and welcome to our first edition of Thyme Flies. The first step of our culinary journey will be in my own backyard, the American South. Known for our weird accents, country living, and questionable history, many overlook what I consider the defining trait of southern culture: great food. Today, we’re gonna learn how to cook a Southern culinary staple – biscuits and gravy.
First, we must clear up a large misconception with our non-American friends. These biscuits don’t resemble the flavorless excuse for a cookie dipped in tea out in Britain (I stand by my words on this one). This biscuit consists of flaky, buttery layers of dough which we smother in gravy, butter, jam, or whatever your heart desires. In my kitchen in the States, we almost always have a leftover biscuit or two ready for a quick snack or meal.
Biscuits originated in the South around the American Civil War in the 1860s as a “hardtack”, a tough but cheap meal for soldiers and plantation workers (you get it) made of flour and water. These hardtacks required a gravy, made from sausage, flour, and butter to soften them enough to become edible. These “hardtacks”, however, did not resemble the fluffy, buttery modern day biscuits, but more the English version of biscuits.
Modern biscuits and gravy developed during the early 1900s, when industrial developments and increased wealth opened the South’s access to baking powder and sugar. While prepackaged biscuits are common around the United States, the Southern tradition remains to make them homemade with cheap, available household ingredients. Because of its origins as a quick, cheap meal, biscuits and gravy offer us college students a quick, cheap weeknight meal.
First we’re cooking the biscuits.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 15 times
Flour – 590ml
Baking powder – 15ml
Salt – 5ml
Sugar – 5ml
Milk – 240ml
Lemon – ½
Butter – 115g
There are a couple tricks with this recipe that, if you master, will give you great biscuits every time and open you up to real Southern cooking.
First, freeze about 115 grams of butter the night before you cook. That way you’re ready to go when you start cooking the next day. Additionally, about 20 minutes before cooking, get 240ml of milk and squeeze half of a lemon in. This creates buttermilk, a half-curdled milk which serves as the basis of Southern comfort food.
- To make the dough, mix the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar into a mixing bowl. Stir it evenly, then grate your frozen butter into the mixture. Give it a quick mix, then throw it back in the freezer for about 15 minutes. Preheat your oven to 250℃
- Take the mixture out and add your 240ml buttermilk. Mix until your dough forms one general mass (be careful not to overmix – the butter could melt and your biscuits will lose their texture.)
- Take your dough over to a flour-dusted table and start rolling it out until 2cm thick. Then, fold it unto itself and roll out to 2cm again. Repeat this 3 more times. This forms the layers which create great biscuits. If you don’t own a rolling pin, just use a wine bottle! It works well enough for me!
- Now to cut out the biscuits, get a cup and press the dough, forming small circles. Place these on a greased oven pan. Take the leftover dough and put it on the pan as well. We don’t want to waste food on our college budgets.
- Throw these biscuits into the oven and let them bake for around 15 minutes. They should be golden and puffed up when they come out.
While these biscuits are cooking, we can make our sausage gravy. For easy sausage, you can buy the preformed sausages at Dia or Mercadona, or we can save money and make our own! I like to use pork for this, but ground beef or chicken also work just fine.
Pork/beef combo – 500g
Nutmeg, oregano, paprika, brown sugar, rosemary – 7ml
Thyme – 15ml
Butter – 30g
Flour – 80ml
Milk – 500ml
Chicken stock or white wine – 15ml
- On a cutting board, flatten out your sausage, then add some brown sugar, nutmeg, paprika, oregano, rosemary, and lots of thyme (I am a huge fan of thyme, hence the title). Mush this all together until the meat absorbs the seasonings, and form 5cm round patties.
- Pan fry these patties, making sure the fat from the sausages don’t burn on the pan (this forms the base of our gravy.) I like to use olive oil when pan frying, but you can use vegetable oil as well.
- Once the sausages are done, deglaze the pan with a little chicken stock or white wine, then pop in about 30 grams of butter and 80ml of flour. Mix these ingredients until they form a roux, or small clumps. At this point, gradually add about 500ml of milk, whisking along the way.
- As the gravy reduces, add a heap or two of black pepper and salt to taste. When the sauce tastes great, crumble your sausage patties into the gravy.
Congratulations, you’re ready to serve! Grab a biscuit, smother it in some gravy, and you’re set!
This has been an exciting journey into the heart of Southern cooking. Our next edition of Thyme Flies will take us to Tunisia, where we’ll cook shakshuka, a breakfast popular across the Middle East. If any of y’all have experience cooking this dish, feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until then, bon appetit!
— Justin Morgan