ROBERT ST. JOHN: My favorite breakfast and the food of love – pancakes

By Robert St. John

Some say breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Others skip the early morning meal. I’ll leave the right and wrong of that debate to doctors and nutritionists. Either way, breakfast is, by far, my favorite meal of the day.
As a kid I ate typical breakfasts enjoyed by most people in this part of the world – eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits. I do remember eating a lot of sugary cereals, but I ate oatmeal, too.
When I spent the night at a grandparent’s house I ate pancakes the next morning. Both grandmothers made excellent pancakes, but the recipe was from my maternal grandmother, and is still used today.
Dads cook breakfast. As a matter of fact, next to grilling, it’s the number two reason men get in the kitchen. Each father has his own “daddy breakfast.”
My maternal grandfather was the man around our house, but his “daddy breakfast” was nothing I wanted any part of – salt-cured mackerel and scrambled eggs. It was a meal he had eaten in Nashville when he was a boy. The smell of the kitchen, alone, made this boy reach for the closest Pop Tart.
So when it came time to create my version of a daddy breakfast, I just cooked things I liked to eat, and items I knew my kids already liked but rarely got to eat.
The daddy breakfast at my house consists of thick-sliced bacon, cooked crisp in my over-sized cast-iron skillet, biscuits, eggs, and hash browns cooked in the bacon grease left in the skillet. Occasionally I will throw in pancakes, too.
The bacon has to be thick sliced and the second batch in the skillet always cooks better than the first due to the bacon grease already in the skillet. Once the bacon is finished I keep the skillet hot and pour in the hash browns. Sometimes, depending on how much bacon I have prepared, I have to add a little canola oil to the skillet.
I have tried several different versions of hash browns, and food snobs will scoff at this method, but store-bought frozen hash browns work better than freshly grated, every time.
I just use Ore Ida hash browns from the frozen food section. They aren’t the shredded ones, but the small cubes. I take them straight from the freezer and dump them into the hot bacon grease over medium high heat (be careful if the hash browns have excess ice crystals). Shake the skillet a few times to coat them in the hot oil and then let them cook until they get crisp and easily move around in the skillet. Don’t move them too much during the middle of the cooking as they will stick to the skillet and tear apart. A cast iron skillet is a must as it does the best job retaining heat and helps the hash browns get crisp. Add salt and pepper at the end of the cooking process.
Over a shared breakfast in Aspen back in the early 1990s, Julia Child explained to me how she prepares scrambled eggs. I still cook them her way, “Just a touch of water and just a touch of milk, don’t over whip, melt a small amount of butter in a skillet, add the eggs, be gentle and don’t overcook them, plate the eggs while there is still a slight wet sheen to them. Add salt and pepper to the eggs on the plate.”
When it comes to biscuits, I will admit that I don’t usually make homemade biscuits. It’s not that I don’t know how, but it is easier to steal biscuits from my restaurants – where the pastry chefs make them from scratch – and save all of the flying flour in my kitchen. I know it’s cheating, but my kids don’t care.
Pancakes are love.
It’s true. I associate love with pancakes. Doesn’t everyone?
Think about it.
I don’t know if – outside of a commercial dining establishment – I have ever had anyone hand me a stack of pancakes that didn’t love me. Conversely, I have never cooked pancakes for anyone in my home that I didn’t love.
To hell with candlelit dinners, you want to show me some love? Get out the griddle, the spatula and my grandmother’s pancake recipe.
Show someone you love them and cook them breakfast today.
Robert St. John is a restaurateur, chef and author of the newly released “Dispatches From My South.”