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Good Morning, Beautiful (Brunch, That Is): Smoked Ham Etouffeé with Stacked Biscuits

Updated: Oct 20, 2022

If you've ever met anyone from Louisiana, I'd bet you didn't have to ask where they're from; if their accent didn't give it away, they'd work it into any imaginable conversation. We love where we're from, and we want you to love it too. Coincidentally, Louisianians tend to brag a bit, claiming this or taking credit for that. Y'all know the obvious- smokey Cajun gumbo, Creole seafood jambalaya, pep-in-your-step jazz music. And brunch.

Yep. You read right.

Brunch, with its we'll-eat-when-we're-damn-well-ready timing and generous portions and pours started right in the heart of the Crescent City. Most historians agree that 19th century French restaurateur Hypolite Begue and his German wife would serve a heavy 'second breakfast' to the butchers of the French Market whose shops commonly closed for the day at 11:00 a.m. Move down the line to the 1970's when the Queen of Brunch, Ms. Ella Brennan, is in the throws of revamping the iconic Commander's Palace. Her brother, Dickie, inspired by a trip to a New Orleans themed cafe in London, calls her with an idea- why not marry New Orleans' love of good food and great music? The leisurely Sunday Jazz Brunch was born and is to this day a smashing success.

It's been over 40 years since, and we're still brunching hard down here. As time marches on, new chefs put their own spin on old classics- think Isaac Toups' charred octopus over grits, Nina Compton's rice porridge with hog's head broth, or Eric Cook's chicken gizzard grillades. And while I'm not a Top Chef like these guys, I do make a pretty bangin' brunch at Crescent City Cooks! where I work. Below is my version of our Sunday brunch gravy that only gets better the more you ignore it with a 'can it be this easy?' flaky biscuit that is to die for. Oh, and both can be made ahead of time, too. That comes in super handy since- let's be honest- you're doing brunch because you're hung over and slept in too late to call it breakfast.

Happy eating (and drinking!) y'all!

Smoked Ham Etouffeé

1 1/2 sticks butter

1/2 cup flour

1 medium red onion

2 sticks celery

1 red bell pepper

1 small jalapeno, seeds and pith removed (optional)

6 or more cloves garlic

1 1/2 cups finely chopped smoked ham (smoked ham, tasso, smoked sausage, etc.)

1 T Worcestershire sauce

1 Bay leaf

2 cups chicken stock

1 cup whole milk

mild hot sauce (Crystal is my go-to)

1 T Gradoux seasoning or other Cajun seasoning (to taste)

Chopped parsley and green onion, for garnish

Get your sh*t together:

1. Finely chop (or pulse in the food processor) the onion, peppers, and celery.

2. Mince the garlic, but keep separate from the rest of the veggies.

Make a Roux:

3. In a large, heavy pot, melt butter over medium-high heat until it's bubbling. Add flour and stir with a wooden spoon or roux spoon until the mixture is smooth. Continue to stir until the flour is nutty and brown and smells like popcorn. The longer the flour cooks here, the deeper the flavor becomes. Cooking your flour to a nutty brown also cooks off the heaviness of the flour so your sauce isn't gloopy.

Let the Flavor Build:

4. Add your veggies (but not the garlic) a handful at a time, stirring in completely before adding the next, until all the veggies are coated. Stir in a big pinch of salt, drop the heat to medium, and let cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are very translucent and the celery is broken down, 10-15 minutes. It's okay if things stick. Let it happen, then scrape it up.

5. Add the Worcestershire, ham, bay leaf, and a couple of shots of hot sauce. Stir in and let cook until fragrant. Add the garlic (finally!), stir, and cook for 3 or 4 minutes.

Gravy, Baby:

6. Begin to add your stock a splash at a time. As you add, scrape up the stuck-on stuff from the bottom and sides. Add more stock as the flour absorbs what you added. Add the milk 1/4 cup at a time. Taste the gravy and add salt, seasoning, and hot sauce as necessary.

7. Let simmer on low for 15-20 minutes. Allow to cool for a few minutes before serving.

Stacked Biscuits

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons brown sugar

2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into little squares and chilled or frozen, plus more for slathering

1 1/4 cups ice-cold buttermilk *

black pepper

Gear you'll need: food processor, large bowl, fork, rolling pin or wine bottle, sharp knife, parchment, baking sheet

1. Preheat oven to 425°.

2. Pulse the first five ingredients in a food processor until blended. Add butter and pulse until the largest pieces of butter are about the size of a pea.

3. Pour the mix into a large bowl. Slowly pour in the buttermilk and stir loosely with a fork. You want to mess with the flour as little as possible. Knead the dough together until a shaggy dough (a.k.a. kinda dry, not sticking together) forms. Turn out onto a clean, floured surface and gently pat into a 1"-thick square.

4. Use a super sharp knife to cut the dough into four pieces. Stack them on top of each other and press down gently to flatten.

5. Lift the dough (use a spatula if you need to), flour the surface again, then roll the dough into a 1" thick rectangle. Use a sharp knife to trim the border, then cut a 4x3 grid (this will give you 12 biscuits).

6. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, butter the paper, then arrange the biscuits 1 inch apart. Freeze for 15 minutes.

7. Brush the top of the biscuits with melted butter, sprinkle with black pepper, and bake for 5 minutes. Drop the heat to 400°, then bake biscuits until golden brown on the bottom and top, 15-20 minutes.

*Buttermilk substitute: Mix 1 tablespoon white vinegar or lemon juice with 1 cup whole milk. Chill in the refrigerator or freezer for 15 minutes.

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