Simmer Down: This Sausage Gravy Pairs Perfectly with Freshly Baked Biscuits
The founder of Mason Dixie Foods shares her recipe and how she started her Southern-inspired food line.
Ayeshah Abuelhiga might not be the face of Southern cooking that you expect. As the child of Korean and Palestinian Israeli immigrants, there were arguments around the dinner table between her parents about which cuisine should win out. It turns out, those arguments could always be remedied with classic Southern food.
Abuelhiga grew up in her parents’ carryout restaurant in Baltimore, basking in the heavy scent of fried chitlins and gizzards. After 15 years working in consulting, she abandoned her corporate life—much to the dismay of her parents—to work with one of her first loves: Southern food. “[My parents] didn't want [me] to work the same life they did so when I told my parents I was opening a restaurant, they were dying,” she laughs.
The concept for Mason Dixie was developed in 2014 and revolved around developing further respect and awareness for Southern food. “I thought it was a travesty that people were eating Chick-fil-A and Popeyes and qualifying that as American Southern food,” she says. “I don’t want people to think that the beauty of this cuisine, which quite honestly was developed by African-American slaves with farm-to-table [ingredients], was anywhere near that.”
So she got to work on a pop-up restaurant in D.C., baking scratch-made biscuits, frying chicken, and assembling freshly made breakfast sandwiches. The fast-casual concept was so popular that the menu sold out every day. Disgruntled customers who missed out on biscuits suggested Abuelhiga freeze and sell them. This way, there would be more storage space because their ovens couldn’t accommodate so many biscuits and in turn would be more availability for customers who didn’t get a chance to snag a sandwich or baked goods.
The frozen biscuits began selling out before the hot food, and Abuelhiga knew she had the beginnings of a consumer product line on her hands. Mason Dixie is now carried in Whole Foods, Costco, Publix, and more chains across the country as well as available online directly to consumers. The line has expanded beyond biscuits to include cinnamon rolls, sticky buns, and scones.
When it comes to making frozen Mason Dixie products, Abuelhiga does not back down from barriers. “These are the same pantry ingredients you would have in your home or go to the grocery store and grab,” Abuelhiga explains. There are no artificial preservatives, no oils, and no additives in the biscuits, scones, or sticky buns. “We don't start with what's the easiest thing or manufacturer can make, which is why they hate us, but it's fine,” she adds with a laugh. “[There’s] a reason we don't have this much homemade artisanal food in the stores—because it's hard to do it right.”
Abuelhiga has future plans to create more simplified frozen offerings, like biscuit breakfast sandwiches, but is enjoying seeing her customers light up about their biscuits. She continues to celebrate her heritage and champion Southern food. “Why can't a half-Asian girl be an expert in Southern cuisine?” she asks. “This is the food I grew up on just as much as anybody else.”
Mason Dixie Sausage Gravy
- 1 box of frozen Mason Dixie Biscuits
- 1 pound of pork breakfast sausage
- 1.5 tbsp maple syrup
- 6 tbsp of butter
- 6 tbsp of flour
- 1.5 cups of milk
- ½ tbsp dry sage
- ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
- ¼ tsp of black pepper
- Salt to taste
1. Place biscuits on an ungreased rimmed baking sheet while frozen. Place in a preheated oven (according to baking instructions on Mason Dixie Biscuits box). Set a timer according to baking instructions.
2. Remove sausage from casing (if cased). Break up sausage into small pieces to cook in a large skillet until brown over medium high heat.
3. Once brown, remove the sausage and leave in a mixing bowl and set aside. Leave the fat in the skillet and add butter until it is melted.
4. Whisk flour slowly into the fat, until clumps are gone and blonde in color with a paste-like consistency, about 1 minute.
5. Slowly add in milk and whisk on simmer until thick, about 4 minutes.
6. Turn heat to high and whisk in the rest of the milk until it boils into the texture of gravy.
7. Add sausage back into the skillet and whisk until well combined.
8. Turn off heat and whisk in maple syrup and seasonings. Salt to taste.
9. Remove biscuits from the oven once golden brown.
10. Serve biscuits warm while sausage gravy is still hot. Top with your favorite fresh herbs, with a side of eggs, or biscuits dressed with maple syrup or grape jelly.