Shiftwork Bites: Guest Chef Edition

In the comments section of my last Shiftwork Bites post, reader Maria opined that my coworkers had better be sufficiently grateful for my efforts in the kitchen(ette). Usually, their thankfulness is displayed by their willingness to do our actual job while I go about the task of feeding us. Once every five weeks, though, I get repaid in decidedly tastier fashion.

When my crew works its Sunday day shift rotation, my partner Steve makes breakfast. To be more specific, Steve's wife makes breakfast, and Steve tops it with eggs cooked to order. His wife Sharon, whose pie we had on Thanksgiving, used to own a homestyle café in Michigan. There, she perfected a recipe for sausage gravy and biscuits. The night before that Sunday shift, this sainted woman stays up baking biscuits from scratch and whisking up a lovely batch of sausage gravy for us to enjoy at work. The gravy is creamy and sweet, with large pieces of sausage suspended in it, balanced out by a slight kick.

As Lauren Marmaduke pointed out last month, gravy is a culinary cure-all. When made properly, it's impossible not to like something topped with a steaming ladleful of the stuff. It certainly doesn't hurt when it's topping something as wondrous as tender, flaky, homemade biscuits.

While they owned the restaurant, Steve often did duty as a short-order cook, manning the griddles for breakfast service and handling a dozen or so eggs at once. He's an old hand, and routinely turns out a perfect over-medium specimen, with beautifully tender whites bearing no sign of frazzle, and delightfully oozy interiors, just the way I like them.

The only problem with our Sunday breakfast ritual is the inevitably gravy haze that descends on the office by around 11:00. Understandably, we go through a lot of coffee on Sundays.

Sharon Arnold's Sausage Gravy

  • 1/2 Lb. regular pork sausage
  • 1/2 Lb. hot pork sausage
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup plus 3 Tb all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 gallon milk (as needed)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Crumble and brown sausage in a dutch oven over medium heat. When the sausage is browned, add butter. Once the butter is melted and any foam has subsided, reduce heat to medium-low and sprinkle on 1/2 cup flour, whisking constantly. Cook the flour and fat for about ten minutes, until the flour has lost its raw cereal taste, and has taken on a dark blond color. Add additional flour as needed for proper consistency. Return heat to medium-high and add about 4 cups of the milk, whisking constantly. Add salt and pepper. Continue to add more milk, whisking constantly, as gravy thickens, until it reaches desired consistency. Once the gravy has thickened, taste it and adjust seasoning accordingly.

Sharon says, rightly so, that the most important thing is the roux. You must cook it long enough to get out the raw cereal taste, but you don't want to take it much past that. The sweetness of milk, the kick of pepper, and the meatiness of the sausage are the stars, here. Also, be aware of how much flour you have added. You must have enough flour in the roux to thicken the amount of milk you're using. If you find your gravy thin at the end, you can't thicken it up simply by adding more flour, or you'll return that raw cereal taste to the gravy. If anything, err on the side of too thick with the roux. It's easier to thin it out at the end with more milk than it is to thicken it, which will likely require you to make an additional roux.

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Nicholas L. Hall is a husband and father who earns his keep playing a video game that controls the U.S. power grid. He also writes for the Houston Press about food, booze and music, in an attempt to keep the demons at bay. When he's not busy keeping your lights on, he can usually be found making various messes in the kitchen, with apologies to his wife.
Contact: Nicholas L. Hall