Louisianas Old Time Egg and Potato Skillet
by Barbara Roethlisberger
(Monroe, Louisiana, USA)
We had company from Washington D.C. who had wined and dined us royally for days - wonderful food and friendship.
Our son, upon learning that our guests had decided that they needed to go home a little early because of a family need, became alarmed that we had not given them some of our own southern hospitality before they left.
It was the morning of their departure when we saw that we could not possibly repay them in like kind.....except I started thinking like my Grandmother did, when I was growing up.
I began looking through the refrigerator and the pantry - I saw a number of items which I decided would help fulfill this awesome goal....something special enough to offset our need to enchant our guests with a visit to remember us by.
I began by starting a recipe of my Grandmother's Tomato Gravy, done in a more "instant" style..where she had used fresh tomatoes, I substituted a number of small cans of tomato sauce.
Using bacon dripping's as a beginning, I wilted a white onion which I had hurriedly chopped in a haphazard way; I lifted those into a waiting bowl, leaving the now fragrant bacon drippings in the hot pan.
I, then, sprinkled a few tablespoons worth of flour over that aromatic mixture, turned down the fire and slowly developed a rich dark brown roux. Adding several cans of tomato sauce, I slowly allowed the flavors to meld until the bubbling red gravy was ready for a little bit of water, added bit by bit slowly.
Stirring, adding a little salt and pepper, the edges and bottom of the black iron skillet need to be scraped frequently to prevent any scorching.
Add enough water to attain a consistency which will successfully envelop a biscuit completely and will render that biscuit invisible because of the richness of this "l'essence de tomato". Once bubbled to perfection, remove the skillet from the fire and cover to await the biscuits.
Next, I popped biscuits into the oven (I used a frozen type because of the time element - I had a number of things to prepare quickly - their plane flight was imminent.)
Using a second black iron skillet, I added a few lumps of butter (margarine, in my case) and allowed that to slowly warm up with the skillet over a low fire; taking a handful of frozen hash brown patties, I broke portions off and tossed into the melting butter; I sprinkled with garlic powder, minced onions, salt and pepper quite liberally and waited for the aroma and the sizzle; stirring, frequently - and tossing them in the butter, the chunks of potato began to brown to a rich russet-dark brown; at this point, the fire should be extremely low. For some, this is the time to add some cheese as well.
At the same time, I whipped about eight eggs together until they were entirely blended. Slowly, I poured the creamy
yellow mixture over the waiting hash browns - right up to the top of the skillet and let it stay that way for a few minutes. As they always have, the eggs began to show signs of cooking within a couple of minutes - a bubble here and a bubble there at the edges is a sign that a spatula needs to be artfully applied to these edges, rounding the contours of the skillet and gently lifting from the bottom - turning over in large motions to keep the combination from becoming separated.
Continue in this way until everyone in the house is peering over your shoulder, drawn by the irresistible fragrances and aromas of your kitchen!
Depending on your personal tastes, these wonderful eggs and potatoes can be left in their black iron skillet home, even for serving at the table, provided you have taken it off the stove early enough to keep them moist.
I had a pot of grits "curing" on the now flame less back burner and waiting for their entree onto one end of a southern style breakfast platter (which, sometimes might be piled high with fried eggs) which now held at the other end, well-browned, glistening sausage links and the bacon I had fried earlier to use for the tomato gravy.
No southern breakfast is complete without a special blend of coffees cooled with cream or even with warmed milk (which was a thing of childhood in our house - I didn't know the French called this cafe au lait, I just knew I liked it!).
Juice, orange, apple or cranberry took its place at the, by now, heavily laden table. The only necessity to include if you want to have a really authentic Louisiana breakfast, would be sorghum molasses, homemade mayhaw jelly, pear preserves or Ribbon Cane Syrup. None of these were present at our breakfast send-off for our northern guests, but I can attest that they would have been missed and almost unforgivably so, by an earlier generation!
Sitting at one side of the dining table in our large old style dining room in a house which still has its old time character - large rooms, breezy passages and tall ceilings, this might have been a scene from my own childhood, but presently, our son beamed as he, too, enjoyed some of his favorite breakfast foods and realized that our guests had received his mother's absolute best gift for them - food,yes - but, more - a fragment of life gone by and life experienced still, which, eagerly discussed, became more than breakfast - a lively discourse about the southern family whose history was the catalyst for the gift.
No more qualms about our hosting deficit...but, the sure knowledge that what is real and honest and full of emotion and art, passed down through generations of talented cooks, will be received with open arms by those who recognize themselves and feel free to honor that...with us...a family.