Not so very long ago, every woodsman knew how to throw together a mess of biscuits with a few common ingredients. Biscuits were as much a part of camping as the wood fire on which they were baked. But times have changed. Open fires have now fallen out of fashion in many places — for very good reasons — and not many cooks bother making biscuits from scratch. Cutting lard or shortening into a mixture of flour, salt and soda, then stirring in milk or buttermilk… It's just too much trouble for most paddlers, and I'm no exception. Luckily for all of us lazybones, there's an alternative, a sort of halfway house between store‑bought and homemade: biscuit mix. Whether you prefer Bisquick, Jiffy, or your local store brand, there's sure to be a mix that will work for you. You can even find gluten‑free varieties. Of course, biscuit mix can be used for a lot more than just making biscuits. It's a Swiss Army knife among culinary staples.
Is all this talk about biscuits making you hungry? Me, too. So let's whip up a quick batch. What's that? You don't associate "quick" with biscuits, even if they happen to be made from Bisquick? Well, neither did I.
But experience soon changed my mind. Biscuits come together fast. And you can bake them in a skillet. So there's little reason not to include them in your paddling meal plan.
A word about quantities: I make my biscuits in batches of nine. Each biscuit is about two inches in diameter. If your biscuits are smaller, you'll get more. If they're larger, you'll end up with fewer. That makes sense, right? OK. Here's what you'll need:
- One cup biscuit mix
- Scant half cup CLEAN water
- Dash of cooking oil
I told you this would be quick, but I didn't say anything about easy, did I? Well, I should have. All you have to do is stir the water into the biscuit mix. There's no need to work up a sweat. In fact, biscuits don't like being beaten. It makes them tough. Does the dough seem too dry? No problem. Simply add a bit more water. Then, as soon as the consistency is right, pat the dough into a rough square about half an inch thick. (I do this right in the pot that I do the mixing in, but you can even use the bottom of your canoe — if it's clean, that is.) Now divide the dough into nine approximately equal portions by cutting across it, tic‑tac‑dough…er…tic‑tac‑toe fashion.
Next, put about a tablespoon of oil in a well‑seasoned eight‑ or nine‑inch cast‑iron skillet, and put the skillet on the stove. (You can also use a nonstick skillet, but you'll still want to add a dash of oil, for flavor if nothing else.) A medium‑high flame is about right. Are you cooking over a wood fire? Then place the skillet in a hot spot. When the oil is shimmering — but before it starts to smoke — it's time to put the biscuits in the pan. Do this carefully, dipping your fingers into the dry mix first to keep the dough from sticking. Better yet, use a spoon to lift the biscuits. Hot oil can give you a nasty burn. (I don't have to tell you not to worry if your biscuits aren't exactly square or perfectly flat, do I? I didn't think so.) Once all the biscuits are in the pan, cover it, reduce the flame (or move the skillet to a cooler region of the fire), and wait. A couple of minutes is all it takes to brown the bottoms. Then flip the biscuits with a spoon or spatula, cover the skillet again, and wait another minute or two. That's it. Serve with butter, olive oil, jam, maple syrup, or honey. It makes my mouth water just writing this.
The basic biscuit is fine as is, but you can always make a good thing better, as in…
Savory Skillet Biscuits
Simply add dried rosemary, cracked black pepper, curry powder, or dried chives to your mix. Or bacon bits (real or vegetarian). Or small chunks of pepperoni. Or even SPAM. Whatever you add, though, don't overdo it. Too many extras will stretch your biscuits to the breaking point. Literally. They'll fall apart in the pan instead of holding together. And biscuit crumbs aren't biscuits. Me? I like Cheddar biscuits, and that's what I made to illustrate this article. First off, I grabbed about an ounce of Cheddar cheese — that's a slab about one‑quarter of an inch thick, an inch wide, and two inches long (see picture at right). Then I chopped the cheese into raisin‑sized chunks and stirred these into the dry biscuit mix. I used Bisquick because that's what I had on hand, but you can use whatever mix tickles your fancy. Finally, I rubbed in about half a teaspoon of dried thyme. All that remained for me to do was to add water, form the dough, and cut it into nine parts. I baked my biscuits in a covered skillet, as described above. A quick poke to make sure they'd cooked through, and it was time to serve 'em up. The photos below show all the steps, though I didn't include any pictures of the covered skillet.