In Praise of a Big Cookbook | Southern Louisiana Style Biscuits with Breakfast Sausage and Shrimp Gravy

Of all the cookbooks you own, how many of them are actually good ones? And since we’re on the subject, what’s your definition of a good cookbook? Quite simply, for me, a good cookbook is a big cookbook.


So here’s my theory: Nowadays, just about anyone can publish a cookbook (no offense to friends who have done so), but it takes an especially accomplished recipe developer to publish a big cookbook. And in my experience, I’ve never read a big cookbook I haven’t enjoyed.


Three big cookbooks that immediately come to mind are: At Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller (399 pages), Around my French Table by Dorie Greenspan (530 pages), and My New Orleans by John Besh (374 pages). Because I’ve read every word from all three, I can safely say this: Big cookbooks don’t rely on buzzwords such as quick, yummy and easy. They don’t reel you in with catch-phrases like thirty minutes or five ingredients. And for a reason I have not yet identified, there is very little use of the exclamation mark. (Note: I personally enjoy exclamation marks.) To put it bluntly, a big cookbook isn’t going to wave a flag at you, begging you to crack it open.


So what are the merits of a big cookbook? A big cookbook is a good teacher. The author is always, always generous with their knowledge, and it usually appears in the middle of a recipe. And, the longer it takes to execute a recipe, the more you will probably learn. If you’ve read an entire volume, you not only absorb the writer’s skills, but also their heart, their passion, their style and their grace. And if you’re paying attention, what you learn can only fuel your desire to adjust, adapt, or even develop a recipe of your own.

I’m not saying that good cookbooks have to be big, but I am saying that for me, a big cookbook is a good cookbook.



  Southern Louisiana Style Breakfast Sausage and Shrimp Gravy

This recipe is a riff on John Besh’s Green Onion Sausage and Shrimp Gravy recipe, as found on p. 57 of My New Orleans. In Southern California, I’m unable to source green onion pork sausage, so I simply use a breakfast sausage. Because I like a lot of gravy on my biscuits, I also upped the ingredients that make up the gravy. Lastly, I’ve adjusted the recipe to serve 3-4 people (the usual in my household). This dish may take awhile to prepare, but the effort is well worth the deep flavors you can’t get by taking any shortcuts.


~ Serves 3-4 ~


  • 1 tablespoon roasted garlic olive oil
  • ½ pound pork breakfast sausage, removed from casings
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • ½ pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • ½ green bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled, germ removed
  • 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
  • ½ teaspoon allspice
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire
  • ¾ cup diced canned tomatoes
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • Leaves from 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 green onion, chopped
  • 4 freshly made biscuits, timed to come out of the oven at the same moment the gravy is finished (recipe here)


~ Preparation ~

Preparation Time: 1 hour

  1. Minute 1: Prepare your ingredients.
  1. Minute 15: Add the olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan over high heat, then add the sausage and cook, breaking up the meat with the back of a wooden spoon, until it is no longer pink, about 5 minutes.
  1.  Minute 20: Add the onions and cook, stirring often with the spoon, until the onions are deep brown, about another 15 minutes.
  1. Minute 35: Reduce the heat the moderate, then sprinkle the flour into the pan, stirring to mix it into the sausage and onions. Cook for about 2 minutes to remove the raw flavor from the flour.
  1. Minute 37: Season the shrimp with salt and pepper, then add them to the pan, stirring and tossing them with a spatula. Sauté until they turn pink, about 3 minutes.
  1. Minute 40: Remove the shrimp from the pan and set aside while you continue making the sauce.
  1. Minute 41: Add the bell pepper, garlic, pepper flakes, allspice, Worcestershire, tomatoes, and chicken stock to the pan, stirring well. Increase the heat and bring the sauce to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook for about 15 minutes.
  1. Minute 55: Add the thyme, green onions, and shrimp and cook for another 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
  1. Minute 60: Ladle in between four warm biscuits and serve immediately.

Source: Very slightly modified (for ingredient availability and to increase the amount of gravy made) from My New Orleans by John Besh, Green Onion Sausage and Shrimp Gravy, p. 57. The original recipe can be found here:


Brunch for this photo included a simple side salad with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing and a bowl of roasted butternut squash puree.


  1. says

    I’m looking at our downstairs collection of cookbooks (i.e. the ones we use the most often) and many of them are big cookbooks. For me, though, what defines a great cookbook is a desire to return to it again and again because it’s challenging and interesting and the recipes are consistent but they can also teach me something every time I make them. But I agree with you wholeheartedly on the notion that good cookbooks don’t rely on buzzwords or gimmicks and instead focus on sharing knowledge and skills. They are serious, and that is why I think they don’t rely on exclamation points. (Some of them, of course, do rely on cursing, and I happen to love that.)

    I’ll have to check out John Besh’s cookbook, but I may wait until we make an upcoming trip to New Orleans and then save that for that post-trip time when I’m craving the local food and want to recreate it in my kitchen. If the above is but a sample of what those 370-plus pages contain, it will need to go to the top of my wishlist. :)

  2. says

    What makes a “good cookbook” in my eyes is one that has a slew of “stickies” poking out from lots of pages after I have gone through it. I might think a cookbook is nice but if I really don’t connect with enough of the recipes to the point that I know I would try them, then the book probably doesn’t come home with me. My “favorite” kind of cookbook is one that educates me – either about a person, place, technique or cuisine. I must also admit, I’m a visual person so I love books with beautiful photographs.