Years ago, back in my college days, a Popeye’s stood at the corner of 54th Street and City Ave in Philadelphia, right at the then-edge of Saint Joseph’s University campus. Early in my first semester, I ended up walking with a classmate over to the restaurant because she was in the mood for some biscuits and she offered me one. Not having grown up with biscuits as part of my culinary heritage, I didn’t know what to expect but I was shocked by how tasty they were–who knew fast food could be this genuinely good? As someone who grew up eating mostly McDonald’s with the occasional foray in Roy Rogers or Wendy’s, my perception of fast food was not terribly favorable.
Some twenty years later I was brought back to that memory when I bit into one of Carla Hall’s flaky biscuits.
I’m sure that would not surprise her one bit, as in her headnotes for this recipe she says that these biscuits taste like Popeye’s, or at least when Popeye’s “back in the day.” It’s also the best recipe I’ve ever encountered for biscuits, and we’ve been trying a few since we’ve moved to Baltimore.
As I mentioned in my post singing the praises of Alton Brown’s fried chicken, Maryland’s culinary landscape absolutely includes fried chicken. I mean, you can go to a Royal Farms gas station and get yourself some fried chicken so good, Food and Wine magazine has even said so. This increase in making our own chicken has prompted Michael to want to make biscuits to go with them and that has led him to try a few different recipes. Alton Brown’s had been his go-to for most of the time, but that one has been superseded by Ms. Hall’s flawless recipe.
We’ve loved Carla ever since she originally graced our screens on the fifth season of Top Chef with her bubbly personality and serious culinary chops, so I’m kind of kicking myself for not getting her cookbook sooner. It’s filled with the food that you’d absolutely expect from her: comfort food classics meant for everyday and/or celebratory meals, with some useful tweaks here and there to allow for easier execution. More than that, though, is that she offers some really interesting insights in her header notes, like how she wanted to bring African and Carribean ingredients into the African-American tradition of jam-making, which is how she came up with her lime-chile mango jam. She always would say on Top Chef how she wants to serve the love with her food, and I appreciate her offering a peek into her thought process on how she does exactly that.
Michael was positively giddy making these biscuits because he was so pleased with how nicely the dough came together and how puffy the final products were. As he was baking away, I made the aforementioned chile lime mango jam, and it too was downright heavenly. A slice of good prosciutto di San Daniele and a dollop of the jam was enough to make each biscuit a perfect brunch time bite on a cold and snowy day, and I have a feeling we’re going to be making these again very, very soon.
Flaky biscuits with prosciutto and chile-lime mango jam
Lightly adapted from Carla Hall’s Soul Food by Carla Hall
Makes enough for seven to eight two-inch biscuit sandwiches
- ¼ lb prosciutto (di Parma or di San Daniele), thinly sliced
- Flaky biscuits (recipe below)
- Lime-chile mango jam (recipe below)
- 4 TB frozen butter, plus more for greasing the pan
- 1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 1 ½ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 TB vegetable shortening, chilled
- ¾ cup of cold buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt and whisk them together using your fingers. Add the shortening, using your fingertips to pinch it into the flour until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs.
Use a box grater (large holes) to grate the butter into the dough, and toss lightly until all butter pieces are coated. Add the buttermilk and use your hand like a spatula to distribute the buttermilk until there are no dry spots.
Coat your work surface with non-stick spray and then lightly dust with more flour. Turn the dough onto the flour and gently pat into a rectangle about ½ inch thick. Dust with flour, and then fold the dough into thirds like a letter. Rotate the dough 90 degrees and repeat this twice, including the rotation. Pat the dough into a ¾-inch rectangle, and it should no longer be sticky.
Flour a two-inch cutter and cut the biscuits as closely as possible, and then collect the scraps, pat them out to a ¾ -inch thickness and continue cutting biscuits. Place on a plate and chill the biscuits for 15 minutes.
Butter a sheet pan lined with foil, and when ready to bake, place the biscuits shoulder to shoulder and bake for 16 minutes or when the rounds are brown. Remove from the oven, and let cool for five minutes before serving.
Chile-Lime Mango Jam
- 2 mangoes, peeled, pitted, and diced, divided
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup water
- Juice of one fat lime or two small ones
- Dried red pepper (arbol or Japones), cut into strips with shears
- Pinch of kosher salt
Add one of the mangoes, the sugar, water, lime juice, red chile, and salt into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. (Note: if one mango is less ripe than the other, use that one first.) Stir to dissolve the sugar, and then reduce to a simmer, mashing the mangoes gently with a masher or wooden spoon until the mixture gets thick–10-12 minutes.
Add the remaining mango and cook for another eight minutes, and then remove from the heat and let it cool. Stored in a well-sealed container it will keep in the fridge for up to a month.
To make the biscuit sandwiches, place a slice of prosciutto on a warm biscuit bottom, and then add about a tablespoon of the mango jam. Top the biscuit and serve immediately.