Food & Drink

Feelin’ Gravy: How to Make the Perfect Sausage Gravy

1 quart sausage gravy; serves 4

Dallas chef David Bull gives the workingman’s breakfast an elegant update

photo: Johnny Autry


If you ever want to eat like a lumberjack without doing a lick of work, you might stop by the Stoneleigh Hotel & Spa in Dallas and let Chef David Bull fix you a plate of savory biscuits smothered in sausage gravy.

Although food lore traces this countrified dish back to Appalachian logging camps—the reason for the term sawmill gravy—Bull has embraced it as part of his culinary signature. “I’ve put biscuits and sausage gravy on the menu at every Texas hotel restaurant where I’ve worked,” he says. “It’s warm and comforting, but also unexpected.”

Biscuits and sausage gravy will forever be regarded as a classic Southern workingman’s breakfast: hearty and inexpensive, with a tiny bit of meat able to feed a mess of laborers. In some parts of the South, the dish is still referred to as “poor-do,” which speaks to its economy, or “life everlasting,” testimony to its staying power.

Johnny Autry

Traditionalists will find it easy to spot Chef Bull’s refinements. Although “cat head” biscuits are typically pinched from the dough and dropped on the baking sheet by hand, the chef cuts his elegant version from rolled dough. Brushing the top of each biscuit with heavy cream before baking does more than bestow a glossy sheen. It creates a light crust that can hold its own against the gravy (without getting soggy) and keeps the interior layers tender and moist: “Like searing a piece of meat,” says the chef. Heavy cream also enriches the white gravy, while aromatic fresh sage leaves bring out the best in the fresh pork breakfast sausage, another staple of the Southern kitchen.

“We get a lot of international tourists at the hotel, and biscuits with sausage gravy represents a little bit of American culture for them,” Bull says. “They may not know the history. But it sure does brighten their day.”


Ingredients

  • Sausage Gravy

    • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter

    • 1 small yellow onion, peeled and small diced (about 1/2 cup)

    • 1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh sage leaves

    • 2 tbsp. flour

    • 1/4 lb. breakfast sausage (not links), cooked and finely crumbled

    • 2 cups half-and-half

    • 2 cups heavy cream

    • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

    • Salt to taste

    • Lemon juice to taste

    • Tabasco to taste

    • Worcestershire to taste

  • Fried Sage Leaves (for garnish)

    • Vegetable oil as needed (enough to “float” the leaves)

    • 6–8 whole sage leaves

    • Salt to taste


Preparation

  1. In a large sauce pot over medium heat, melt butter until almost foamy. Add the onion, and cook until it appears translucent, about 2 to 3 minutes.

    Add the sage, stirring frequently. Do not brown.

    Quickly stir in flour. Add the sausage, half-and-half, and heavy cream, and bring sauce to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until liquid is slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. (Adjust heat so liquid does not simmer over the sides of the pot.)

    Add cayenne pepper, and season with salt, lemon juice, Tabasco, and Worcestershire to taste.

    Puree until smooth and combined: Use an immersion blender (in the pot) or transfer the liquid to a blender or a food processor and work in small batches.

  2. Heat the oil in a heavy-gauge sauce pot with tall sides over medium heat until it reaches 325°F.

    Carefully drop each sage leaf into the hot oil, and turn once after 30 seconds. Cook until color darkens, about another 15 to 20 seconds, and remove the leaves from the oil.

    Place on a paper towel to drain, and season with salt.


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