Celebrate American Independence Day

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

July 4 is Independence Day. Can’t make it Stateside? Celebrate by eating that classic American brunch staple: Biscuits and gravy.

Like the culinary version of your favourite teddy bear and blankie, a big ol’ helpin’ of flaky biscuits and decadently rich gravy is America’s breakfast comfort food.

What is it?
Flour, leavening, fats and a little milk or buttermilk is all that’s needed for biscuits. Kneaded lightly and folded a few times to aerate, these cakey quickbreads have a sturdy crust and delicate layers. The milk-based gravy usually contains added sausage, but, these days, it could be bacon, oysters or vegetarian crumbles. Biscuits are eaten mostly at breakfast, but can appear with stews, at picnics, or on Thanksgiving.

Origin
In the post-Revolutionary agrarian United States, breakfast had to be three things: cheap, filling, and not British. While Scottish, Irish and English immigrants brought the scone to the USA, the recipe morphed to leave out the sugar and the name changed to the French-inspired biscuit (biscuit: literally, ‘twice cooked’). Yeast-less biscuits were made inexpensively from on-hand farmhouse staples: flour, milk and fat.

Tasting
Although physicists and philosophers have tested the many earthly substances, none have proved as fluffily delicious as the perfectly baked biscuit. First-timers: try splitting one in half slowly, watching the layers of flaky strata burst with hug-flavoured steam, and slather some freshly churned sweet cream butter or homemade preserves on top. Some families in the American South have their own closely guarded recipe that goes back generations. Unless you need the calories for a full day’s work on the farm, a full plate of biscuits with gravy is usually reserved for weekend brunches. If you can’t join a cattle drive, just find an old-time diner – preferably one with decor from the 1960s and a beehive hairdo-sporting waitress who calls you ‘hon’ – or, even better, make the dish at home.

Finding it
Pine State Biscuits in Portland, Oregon, combines North Carolinian recipes with local ingredients to achieve superlative biscuitry. Dishes cost US$2–9.

Top tip
You want real biscuits and gravy? Skip the fancy-schmancy restaurants offering souped-up versions of the classic and instead look for truck stops, diners and neighbourhood breakfast joints. While the Deep South’s buttermilk biscuits are the most famous, classic biscuits and gravy can be found all over the USA, especially in rural areas.

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Recipe: Biscuits with Sausage Gravy
If your country doesn’t sell buttermilk, you can make your own version. Just add 1 tbs lemon juice or white vinegar to 1 cup regular milk and wait until it curdles (about 15 minutes).

Ingredients

For the biscuits

1 cup unbleached all-purpose (plain) flour (or 2 cups all-purpose flour if cake flour is not available)

1 cup cake flour, if available (see above)

¾ tsp salt

3 tsp baking powder

2 tbs unsalted butter, cut into tiny pieces and, if possible, chilled in the freezer

2 tbs shortening (lard or white vegetable shortening)

¾ cup buttermilk

about 2 tbs melted butter, for brushing

For the sausage gravy

450g (1lb) country or breakfast sausages

cup unbleached all-purpose (plain) flour

3 cups milk

2 tsp black pepper

salt, to taste

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 230°C (450°F).

2. Combine the flours, salt and baking powder in a large bowl.

3. Quickly cut or rub in the chilled butter and shortening, using a pastry blender or your fingers. Blend until the mixture resembles coarse sand, then make a well in the centre.

4. Pour in the buttermilk and mix lightly with a spoon and then with your hands to create a sticky dough. Try not to handle the dough too much.

5. Transfer the dough to a well-floured surface. Gently pat the dough flat, using your hands. Fold the dough in half and pat it flat again, repeating a few times, to add in air.

6. Use a floured round or square biscuit cutter (the edge of a juice glass works in a pinch) to cut out biscuits that are 5cm (2in) in diameter.

7. Place the biscuits on an ungreased baking sheet lined with baking paper. For moister biscuits, space them close together during baking. For harder exteriors, space them well apart.

8. Brush the tops of the biscuits with a little melted butter.

9. Bake the biscuits for 12–15 minutes, until well risen and light golden brown.

10. Meanwhile, make the gravy. Remove the casings from the sausages, discarding the casings. Fry the sausage meat in a large pan without oil over a medium-high heat until it is browned, breaking up the meat into small pieces as it cooks.

11. Stir in the flour until it dissolves in the fat from the sausages. Slowly add the milk, incorporating it gradually and stirring all the time to form a smooth gravy containing lumps of sausage.

12. Reduce the heat to low and simmer the gravy, stirring constantly, for about 12 minutes, until it is thickened.

13. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon the warm gravy mixture over the biscuits and serve fresh from the oven.

Makes 8–12 biscuits; serves 4

Extract taken from The World’s Best Brunches (£14.99)  – a new book published by Lonely Planet that brings together the most mouth watering recipes from all over the world, in one book.

9781743607466

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