Southern Food Road Trip: Biscuits Lesson with Susan Spicer in New Orleans

New Orleans, LA – Making an iconic Southern recipe with one of the region’s most influential chefs was beyond my wildest expectations when I started planning in December  to eat my way to culinary enlightenment through the American South.

But Susan Spicer is legendary for being generous with and supportive of other chefs, or, in this case, an expatriating cook who wants to bring American Southern food to Tasmania, dsc00910Australia and cook it for people who don’t know from slow smoked barbecue and who, very likely, have never encountered, much less eaten a pecan pie.

Buttermilk biscuits with turkey and duck sausage and pork andouille cream sage gravy

On Sunday morning, I found this James Beard Award-winning chef at the dish sink, scrubbing out the industrial size mixing bowl we’d be using to prepare some of the lightest and most delicious buttermilk biscuits I’ve ever eaten. It was technically, her “day off” which means by 11:30 she likes to be done helping to prep and start service at Rosedale, the just-opened third restaurant in her NOLA empire.

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Making biscuits is rare at her other two upscale eateries, four-star Bayona and Mondo, which both do variations on global cuisine. But they’re right at home at Rosedale, which was built-out inside a former 1930’s era police station, well away from the Bourbon Street hubub along the New Basin Canal. Bars remain along the windows of one wall; one bathroom is a former jail cell. Chef Spicer and Chef Brett “Shaggy” Duffee created a menu meant to reflect New Orleans cuisine, including items like turtle soup, alligator boudin and the amazing skewered “shrimp puppies” a cross between fried shrimp and hushpuppies that defy an appropriate superlative.

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Susan’s biscuits incorporated White Lily all-purpose and pre-sifted flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, butter and buttermilk. I didn’t ask her for a recipe, but I bet she’d give me one if I do, so I will!

(Meantime, check out these recipes I found in an Alabama cookbook from the Telephone Pioneers of America, Chapter No. 34. One yeast biscuit, one mayo biscuit and one cheddar garlic biscuit recipe.)

This is Susan’s flour of choice

I got a chance to eat Susan’s biscuits, alongside a banging bloody mary, topped with a cream gravy of turkey and duck sausage, pork andouille and fresh sage. This is not on the menu, but it would sell out every week if it were.

Many people have made biscuits before, so I’ll hit some highlights on the tips and tricks:

• Keep all your ingredients cold until you use them, but especially the butter. You want it to melt in the oven, inside the biscuits, where it can create steam that will help these little pastries to rise.

• Don’t overmix or overknead them, because that develops the gluten in the flour and makes for a tough biscuit. When we made ours, Susan decided to cut them into squares rather than punch out round biscuits, in part because making squares doesn’t produce any scraps that have to be pressed together and re-rolled. The second or third round of rolling makes biscuits that are never as delicate as those from the first go.

• Don’t roll or pat out the dough too thin. Ours were more than an inch thick when we put them in.

• Don’t squash your dough while cutting it. If you’re cutting squares, like we were, flour your sharp knife for a clean cut the dough doesn’t stick to. If you are punching out biscuits, use a sharp cutter (floured) to create clean edges.

• Make sure your oven is hot-hot preheated (I think ours was on 400 but it was convection; I’ve seen biscuit recipes at 450 in conventional ovens) again because you’re trying to produce biscuit-leavening steam. If the temperature isn’t all the way cranked that won’t happen.

• Trust your judgment more than the timer on when to take them out. Wait until they’re the golden brown you’re looking for. You may need to rotate the pans, depending on your oven.

• Don’t spare the butter. We brushed them with butter both before we put them in and after taking them out. Butter is delicious!

I can’t say enough thanks to Susan for her support and encouragement of Expat Cook, and my apologies and thanks to the staff of Rosedale, who indulged me adding to their small-kitchen chaos Sunday morning.

A couple also made contributions to the “Holodeck” question of “What are five foods or beverages that help explain what Southern food is?” Here is Juan Durango:

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