How to Make the Perfect Southern Sausage Gravy (Recipe)
Ultimate Comfort Food
From the time he was born, my brother Joey adored my sausage gravy. After he could drive, it never failed that when I would come to town, he'd shortly show up with a grocery bag. He'd have a pound of sausage, a pound of butter, and a jug of milk. He even eventually developed a song about my gravy—which cracked me up and guaranteed that I'd make it for him every time.
In some ways, this is the real deal—Southern Appalachian comfort food. In other ways I 'popped' it. Originally, sausage gravy in the poor, rural, mountainous South was made only with the 'drippings'—the grease—leftover when the sausage had been cooked. It was mixed with flour, cooked off, and had milk whisked in. This was the traditional white gravy served over biscuits.
Over the years I left more and more of the sausage in the pan to increase the 'sausageness' of it, and to give it body. Yes, that's a word. Hush. Eventually we decided it just rocked when I left the whole daggone pound in there.
I still claim that this is Appalachian Southern to the core—since I am—and I make it. So there. What I do not claim is that this is diet food. It is not. But do what I do. Make something a couple of times a year as a treat—and make it right, instead of having the mediocre stuff more often. You'll be glad you did. And you'll see why this deserved a Joey-song on its own.
- 1 lb pork sausage
- 4 Tbl butter
- 4 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 4 cups milk
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Cook sausage over medium heat in a large skillet. A potato masher really helps break up and crumble the sausage as you cook. If you don't have one, just mash it with a spatula as you cook to break it up as much as possible. I'll often use a metal spatula to 'cut' the sausage into bits as small as I can while it cooks. This gives a better distribution of sausage goodness in the final gravy.
- Once the sausage has browned, add the butter to the pan. Allow it to melt fully, stirring it into the sausage.
- Sprinkle flour over the sausage, stirring to fully incorporate it. Add the kosher salt, black pepper, and red pepper, and stir well. You can skip the red pepper if you need to, but it's really good. It's a great little contrast against the richness of the gravy.
- Slowly add 1 cup of the milk to the sausage, stirring until smooth. Slowly stir in the remaining milk, stirring constantly. Bring the mixture up to a boil, reduce to a simmer and allow the gravy to simmer for at least one full minute—then turn off the heat.
- Serve immediately over biscuits or dry toast. Homemade biscuits are best, but we've been known to use a spoon standing at the stovetop. We don't judge. We understand.
Ready...Get Your Biscuits Set...Here We Go!
Pork Ain't What it Used to Be
For the first 200 years of European settlement in the Appalachian south, folks turned their hogs out in the forest to forage, rounding them up in the late fall for slaughter. This resulted in meat that was dark, rich, and hearty, and also much fattier than the pork we know from most grocery stores and butchers we know today.
In the 50s and 60s, growers and producers of pork began breeding animals that were much leaner, responding to consumer demand for leaner meats. This led to pork finally coming to be known as 'the other white meat.' It also means that pork and pork products contain much less fat than they did 100 years ago.
So We Add Butter....
Because pork products are leaner than they used to be, commercially made pork sausage doesn't contain near as much fat as the pork that was originally used to make these traditional recipes—such as sausage gravy. As much as we may want to, in order to make sausage gravy the way my great grandmother did, I'd have to find a heritage breed of pork, have it slaughtered, find a butcher to cut it for me, then make my own sausage, which would let me control the amount of fat that goes into the sausage.
As much as we may want to, in order to make sausage gravy the way my great grandmother did, I'd have to find a heritage breed of pork, have it slaughtered, find a butcher to cut it for me, then make my own sausage, which would let me control the amount of fat that goes into the sausage.
As hardcore as I am about cooking from scratch, that's a little much for me. Therefore, I adapt by adding in the fat that's missing from modern pork sausage, in order to mimic the taste and texture (as much as I can) of this heritage recipe.
A Word on Bechamel - AKA White Gravy
Southern white gravy is really just a variation of a bechamel—the classic French sauce. It uses a 1:1:1 ration of oil, flour and liquid, and you can change out the oil or liquid as you like, although in this case, don't. This way is fabulous, leave it alone.
But white gravy was originally made in the Appalachian South as a means by which to capture every last scrap of usable food - in this case, the oil that rendered from pork or bacon as it cooked. Because fats were rare, expensive and hard to come by, those calories needed to be captured. Making a gravy from the fat in the skillet was one of the most popular methods since biscuits were ubiquitous—because they were inexpensive to make from cheap, readily available ingredients.
To Prevent Lumps, Add Milk Slowly
Add the Rest of the Milk
Don't Let it Boil....
The Truth At Our House
I come from a family where gravy is considered a beverage.
You Know It's Ready...
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© 2010 Jan Charles