Thursday, July 2, 2015

Biscuits and Hot Link Gravy & Appreciation Pils

I miss diner food.  There I've said it.  It's not at all the thing I anticipated missing - I'd prefer my homesickness to be a bit more highbrow - but I do.  I miss grease, hash browns, the miracle that is corned beef, cheap ketchup and absurd breakfast skillets with seven different kinds of meat.

I also miss grease.

And grease.

(Although, this just in: Danes sometimes smear pork lard on their toast which is as good as grease and, obviously, one thousand percent genius).

American diners boast a special kind of cuisine. Hovering over the sweet spot of junk food and home cooking, good diner food can both fill you up and make you hate yourself for hours after.  It also cures hangovers.  And diets.  Back in our roaring twenties, Sarah and I enjoyed a lot of diner meals, mostly at our favorite spot on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago.  It had sticky pleather booths, burned coffee and a mustachioed owner who affably slapped your backs on your way in and out.  Sadly, it's closed now but memories of our indulgent brunches/late night, post pub eating extravaganzas, still linger.  Sarah usually got a skillet, always with ham, never with green peppers and I always, ALWAYS got the biscuits and gravy.

You know biscuits and gravy, right?   The Southern dish consisting of simple gravy made from milk and white flour and the (grease!) drippings of sausage, all mixed together with more sausage and poured over biscuits.  If you're really hardcore (or Southern) you might like biscuits with Red Eye Gravy but at our house we prefer cream over coffee grounds.  And, given that most of my food brain is currently trained on barbecue, I most recently discovered that we also like our biscuits and gravy with ... Hot links!

That's right, I'm upping the breakfast ante!  Hot links do everything a traditional pork breakfast sausage does but they add some some serious, not-to-be-f'd-with flavor (thanks paprika, thanks chili powder).  They also add smoke and are easy to pick up from your local barbecue joint (*warning: shameless Warpigs promotion ahead), who, yes, do now offer take-away service!  Let me just say, I've eaten a lot of biscuits and gravy and in my relatively expert, certainly experienced opinion, the only thing better than biscuits with gravy is biscuits with gravy, with hot links!

The only downside to using precooked sausage, of course, is that they lack in the grease rendering potential.  That's inconsequential though because seriously - just use bacon grease!  Like a housewife from the 1950s, I squirrel away all my bacon grease for later use, slowly adding to an old ball jar we keep in the fridge.  Because I've been saving since we moved here, I've got plenty but if you don't happen to be in the habit hoarding old fat, no worries, just render some fresh.  About 1/2 lbs bacon should do it.  But also, start saving your bacon fat.  That stuff is gold.

About the biscuits … I prefer butter to lard.  Southern traditionalists may grimace but for me, butter always has a superior flavor in baked goods.  This recipe is easy.  Super easy.  It has 6 ingredients and takes about 10 minutes.  I'm no pastry chef so I look for baking recipes that are hard to muff.  Washing the tops with egg won't change the flavor but it will add a nice golden hue and because biscuits and gravy is a largely brown-on-brown dish, it's a worthwhile aesthetic step.

And to drink? I chose Mikkeller's Appreciation Pils because it was a beer brewed as a "tribute to Chicago" and I'm sentimental like that.  Also because I'm partial to Mikkeller.  Also because it's tasty.  Also because it goes great with biscuits and gravy.


A Moment of Gratitude  ...

To all the terrific readers who answered last week's plea for Dr Pepper with messages and emails and tips about where to get it in Denmark.  Particularly the mensch who hand delivered two cans straight to me, just earlier today.  Wow, what a response!  You guys. Seriously.  Thank you!

Biscuits and Hot Link Gravy 

For the biscuits:
2 C. Flour
1 tsp. Sugar
1 T. Baking Powder
2 tsp. Salt
8 T. Butter (cubed and cold)
¾ C. Milk
1 egg, beaten (optional)

In a large bowl, mix all dry ingredients together.  Using your hands massage the butter carefully into the dry ingredients.  Incorporate the milk slowly in the bowl until the dough forms.  Mold the dough into a thick disk shape and wrap it in plastic.  Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes to harden the butter.  
Lightly flour a workspace and, using a rolling pin, roll dough into a 1.5-2 inch thickness.  Using a cookie cutter (or a glass rim), punch out the biscuit rounds.  Place biscuits on a greased baking tray.  Using a pastry brush, lightly wash the tops with the beaten egg.  Bake at 375 F 12-15 minutes or golden brown.

For the hot link gravy:
1 lb. Hot Links (stripped of their casings and crumbled)
3 T. Bacon Fat
3 T. Flour
3 C. Milk
1 tsp. Allspice

In a hot saucepan, add the bacon fat to melt.  Render the crumbled hot links in the bacon fat and cook for 10 minutes.  Add the flour and stir continuously over medium heat for 1 minute to create a roux.  Turn heat to low, add the milk slowly and whisk on low until the gravy thickens.  Add the allspice and cook for an additional minute.

Pour hot gravy over freshly baked biscuits and serve immediately.

*Note:  This recipe is based on the use of Warpigs hot links that already contain exactly the right amount of spice and seasoning for this dish.  If you are using other hot links, that's fine of course but may require a bit of tweaking with respect to salt, pepper, paprika, etc.

Pairing Notes
Appreciation Pils
5% ABV

Because of its nearly delicate lightness and refreshing quality, this is an especially good morning beer and perfect to pair with a heavy breakfast.  For these same reasons it contrasts nicely against a dish this bold.  The loudness of the gravy's spices and seasoning are calmed by the freshness of the bright floral hops while the richness of the gravy, sausage and biscuit are wiped clean from the palate by the high carbonation.

The malt structure works to both complement and contrast.  The bread notes of the malts mirror the butteriness of the biscuit while their sweetness pleasantly opposes the piquant zest of all the spices and pepper in the sausage .


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