My brother used to live in North Carolina, and while I never got a chance to visit, my parents did, and were introduced to the phenomenon that is Mama Dip. During one particular visit they brought back for me an only-in-the-South brand of sausage gravy mix (by now I’ve forgotten which kind, of course) and a recipe for the buttermilk biscuits served at Mama Dip’s restaurant, which turned out to be, at that point, the best biscuits and gravy I’d ever had. I probably made those biscuits once a week for the next five years. I’ve fooled around with my own sausage-gravy variations, but this chicken version, which is not unlike pot-pie filling, might just take the cake. It’s hearty and comforting without making you feel like you just had a heart attack, and it’s not much more of a hassle to make than the sausage kind. I don’t think I’ve ever used a recipe for it, so please bear with my reconstruction. You will not be disappointed.
As below it makes about 3 servings (10 biscuits); if you have a proper biscuit cutter you may be able to roll the dough out thinner and get more biscuits; I use a cup that tends to squish the sides down, so I’m overly conservative on making them thick enough to rise.
• Approx. 1-1 1/2 cups cooked chicken, chopped (this was about 2 large thighs for me; I prefer thighs, as they have more flavor, but you can certainly use breasts if that’s all you’ve got): $1.25
• 1 large carrot, peeled and chopped: 3 cents
• 1 large celery stalk, chopped: 9 cents
• 1/2 an onion, chopped: 12 cents
• 1/4 cup all-purpose flour: 3 cents
• 4+ cups good-quality chicken stock (I used the rest of stock from the whole-chicken dinner with vegetables): $0
• 2 tsp fresh thyme (garden): $0
• 1 T cooking oil or bacon fat, if you have some on hand (I used leftover rendered chicken fat from the whole-chicken dinner with vegetables): $0
• Salt and pepper to taste: 2 cents
• 2 cups self-rising flour (I buy a bag and empty it into a clear labeled storage jar from IKEA; I only use S.R. flour for these biscuits, and it keeps in that jar for years): 40 cents
• 1/4 cup cold bacon fat, lard, or shortening (every time I cook bacon, I pour the fat off into a tin that I keep in the fridge; bacon fat makes the best biscuits): $0
• 1 cup buttermilk (buy a tall carton, since it’s cheaper per ounce, and freeze it in 1-cup increments for use in muffins, pancakes, cornbread, or all manner of other uses): 37 cents
• I served a salad on the side but it felt kind of sacrilegious, so I don’t exactly recommend it, but it is an option if you have lettuce in your garden.
TOTAL: $2.31/3 = 77 cents/serving
Heat the oil or fat in a large skillet over medium heat. (Look at how much rendered chicken fat is left!)
Add the chopped carrot, celery, and onion. Sprinkle with the thyme and a generous pinch of salt, cook until vegetables are softened and onion is just starting to brown, about 7-8 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and stir well to coat. Cook for about 2 minutes, stirring often, until the vegetables become slightly translucent. Pour in a little of the chicken stock and stir until absorbed. Repeat until all the chicken stock has been added. Add the chicken and simmer for a few minutes.
Adjust consistency with more chicken stock, if desired. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Cover and keep on low heat, stirring occasionally, while you make the biscuits.
In a medium bowl, add the bacon fat, lard, or shortening to the flour. (At right is the bacon-fat tin.)
Work the fat or shortening into the flour with your fingers until the mixture is crumbly, soft, and evenly distributed. Add the buttermilk and stir with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until a cohesive dough forms. Turn it out onto a floured surface (if the dough hasn’t completely cohered, knead it a few times until it does). Roll out to a thickness of about 1/2 to 1 inch with a rolling pin. Cut into circles using a biscuit cutter or a shallow cup with thin edges. (The thicker the edges and deeper the cup, the more the sides of the biscuit will get mashed down and keep it from rising.)
Place the cut biscuits on a greased cookie sheet.
Cook at 400 degrees for about 10-12 minutes, or until tops are slightly golden.
To serve, break the biscuits in half (they should be perfectly flaky and fluffy inside, especially if you used bacon grease) and put on individual plates. Ladle the gravy over the top.