Last week the whole HeeHaw gang went to the beach for our annual beach trip—me, my darling Thunder, both my gorgeous sisters and their incomparably handsome husbands, my niece (aka the Most Perfect Teenager on the Planet), and my beloved bestie. And yes, it was weird being there without either of my parents. Lots of things were different this year. We stayed in a condo tower instead of the ramshackle house we stayed in every summer for decades with Mom and Dad. We rented chairs and umbrellas like rich Yankees instead of trekking out to the beach to set up a camp Mad Max would be proud of every morning. We had our groceries delivered instead of fighting the crowd at the Wal-Marts that first night. (The lady in front of us in line with a cart full of milk and hot dogs and a fist full of expired coupons back in 2018 will forever live in family legend.) We ate a lot of sandwiches and takeout instead of doing a lot of cooking. But Sunday morning, our first morning, I did my mama proud. I got out of bed at the ungodly hour of 7:30 and made Beach Breakfast.
Katie (the aforementioned MPT on the P) coined the phrase Beach Breakfast when she was six for the big spread we put on the table most mornings on vacation that we would never attempt most of the rest of the year. (Christmas Breakfast is related but not identical, relying heavily as it does on Danish and Christmas cookies.) The standard menu is scrambled eggs with cheese, grits, whomp biscuits (to steal the perfect term for canned biscuits coined by author Jill Conner Brown, the Sweet Potato Queen herself), and either bacon or sausage and sausage gravy. Sliced cantaloupe and sliced homegrown tomatoes are optional but always welcome.
I can literally cook this stuff in my sleep, as I proved again last week, and so can my sisters. But it has come to my attention that some people labor under the misapprehension that making sausage gravy is hard. (I blame the Cracker Barrel and every other “country cooking” restaurant that ever got away with charging the starved and unknowing an arm and a leg for it.) I promise you, it’s not. Here’s how I make mine.
2 lbs of sausage (I prefer regular, but if you like mild or spicy, go right on.)
¼ cup of all-purpose flour
¼ cup of butter
Enough milk to get the right consistency; 2-3 cups. Whole is probably best, but I usually end up using 2% because that’s what we drink
Salt and pepper
Form the first pound of sausage into patties and fry them in a great big skillet, preferably non-stick. (For those of you who don’t know how to fry sausage patties, put the sausage patties in the cold skillet, put the skillet on the stove, turn the heat on to medium high and leave it until the sausage starts to sizzle. Crank the heat back to medium low and cook until it’s done all the way through, flipping often—this usually takes about 10-15 minutes.) Remove the sausage patties and put them on a plate covered with a paper towel to drain. Put a lid over them if you want them to stay hot.
Crumble the second pound of sausage into the grease from the first and brown it thoroughly. Keep an eye on your heat and knock it back if the bits stuck to the pan start to get too dark—dark brown is fine; black is not.
Melt the butter into the crumbled, browned sausage, using a whisk safe for your skillet to scrape up the stuck bits. (Is it de-glazing if you do it with butter? Hell if I know, but that’s the general concept.) Sprinkle in the flour and stir with the whisk until the sausage is all coated and the flour is slightly browned—this takes 30 seconds to a minute. If you have more grease floating around un-pasted, sprinkle in a little more flour and stir it in.
Pour in about a cup of milk and whisk until it’s a thick, smooth, bubbling sludge, then pour in another cup and keep whisking. Ina Garten advises that you heat up your milk before you put it in; I have not found this to be necessary. It takes a little longer to come up to a simmer and thicken, but just keep whisking. It’ll happen even if you poured it cold straight out of the refrigerator. Keep cooking, whisking, and adding milk in splashes until you get the consistency you want, keeping the gravy bubbling but not boiling over.
Salt and pepper to taste. I like some salt and LOTS of pepper.
And that’s it. This makes enough gravy to slather over four rolls of cheap whomp biscuits or two rolls of not-so-cheap whomp biscuits or a full batch of homemade biscuits if you’re energetic enough to make them just to slather them with gravy. My baby sister, Alexandra Christian, prefers her gravy without the sausage bits in it, so if you’re cooking for her and those like her, just fry up both pounds of sausage in patties and skip the whole browning and crumbling step.
So now you can tell Cracker Barrel to suck it.