Decades ago, our family spent vacations camping in Arkansas. We'd eat out twice: Once for fried catfish and hush puppies and the other time for a pancake breakfast. Reading the menus in the Mountain Home cafe, my Chicago-born siblings and I would marvel at the odd-sounding options, especially biscuits and gravy. We knew biscuits: Our mom served them for dessert with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. But breakfast? With sausage gravy? Not so much.
I was newly married and a culinary school graduate when I ordered them at a coffee shop in Brown County, Ind. Fluffy white biscuits split open and completely covered in a pale, chunky white sauce. My husband immediately embraced the richness.
We incorporate this version into our special occasion weekend breakfasts. So much so that I stock the freezer with chorizo and keep the vegetable shortening chilled. To make the morning prep go faster, I mix all the dry ingredients for the biscuits in advance. No matter the recipe, warm, fresh-baked biscuits always gratify.
The best tip for light, fluffy and delicious biscuits: Do not use excess baking powder. The biscuits will have a bitter, metallic aftertaste (which I always detect in the refrigerated dough versions). That's also my problem with self-rising flour and buttermilk baking mixes — excessive leavening giving an off taste. It's simple enough to mix flour, salt and baking powder anyway.
Seasoned pork sausage, crumbled and skillet-browned, flavors the classic milk-based gravy served throughout the South. If the sausage is good, so follows the gravy, since it's based on the sausage drippings. Typically, the chub of bulk breakfast sausage flavored with sage and herbs gets top billing.
The Austin diner version I like uses Mexican chorizo, typically made from ground pork, red chilies and vinegar. (Don't confuse Mexican chorizo with the Spanish version that is actually a cured sausage like salami.) The recipe that follows also tastes great with spicy Italian sausage.
You can always skip the gravy and serve the herb-studded biscuits with skillet-fried eggs. Or, add them to the dinner table with sweet, soft butter. I also like to eat them warm with a smear of mayo and thin slices of prosciutto or country ham.
The Northerner in me puts sliced ripe tomatoes and/or salad greens on the plate (dressed with lime juice and salt). Strong black coffee and fresh grapefruit juice work to cut the richness. Then take a nap. You deserve it.
Herbed breakfast biscuits
Prep: 25 minutes
Cook: 12 minutes
Makes: 12 biscuits
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup whole wheat flour (or more all-purpose flour)
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
2 to 3 teaspoons sugar, to taste
½ teaspoon salt