Southerners don’t own gravy—iterations of the pan sauce are found in cuisines around the world.
“But we’re good at it,” says Sheri Castle, a North Carolina food writer and cookbook author who’s known in certain circles as the Gravy Whisperer. “Only in the South would biscuits and gravy be considered part of a continental breakfast,” she says. “It may not be good, but it’s there.”
We do have one claim to gravy fame, Castle notes: making it with milk. It’s how we craft the sausage gravy that’s smothered many a biscuit throughout the region. Making it is a simple matter. “For all people’s trepidation, any person who can brown hamburger can make sausage gravy. It’s an entry-level classic,” Castle says. Indeed, it calls for just three main ingredients: sausage, flour, and milk. But that’s where the precision ends.
Thing is, gravy is more of an art than a science. “There is always an element of being in the moment with gravy,” Castle says. There are variables, staring with the sausage’s fat content. Once it’s been rendered, the gravy maker must “read the grease level,” as Castle puts it. Not enough there? Add bacon fat or butter. Now for the flour. Castle’s a big fan of instant flour like Wondra—it’s designed specifically for making sauces and gravies, so it simply doesn’t lump. Just make sure to cook it long enough. “Otherwise it’ll taste like you’re licking the flour canister,” she says. “It’s perhaps the one peril of gravy.” And warm your milk a bit before adding it; if it’s cold, it’ll only slow down the cooking process.
Now it’s time to let the magic happen. Give the gravy some stirring action to help it thicken for about ten minutes (and never try to move it along by adding flour after the milk). “Gravy needs attention, but it shouldn’t be self-conscious,” Castle says. When in doubt, remember her simple piece of gravy-making wisdom: trust your skillet.