Does your brain ever tell you things uninvited? Little things: ideas, half-formed thoughts, dribs and drabs of inspiration. In a different part of my life, as a poet and writer, I sometimes have a nicely turned phrase appear, fully formed, in my brain — I assume this happens to everyone, within their specialty. But this happens to me with food, too, which is sort of bizarre, since the ‘idea’ is usually halfway between words and a memory of flavor.
And a few weeks back, as I was about to get into bed, I got one of those flavor inspirations: MASA HARINA BISCUITS. (My brain is both loud and insistent sometimes.) Masa harina, if you’re not familiar, is the flour used to make corn tortillas and tamales, so the biscuits would have that same almost-floral corn scent. Combined with some cornmeal, buttermilk, and plenty of butter, the biscuits would have a sweet, rich bite.
So, masa harina biscuits were a go. But something else has to go with them to make an irresistible breakfast. I briefly considered a creamy sausage gravy (you can take the boy out of the South…) but it didn’t seem quite right. The dish as a whole seemed to want to be a cross cultural, borderlands affair, and the mere fact of biscuits was quite American enough without covering them in sawmill gravy, thank you very much.
Another kind of sausage, though, a Mexican chorizo, would be perfect, and exactly the sort of combination that happens in Texas, where even IHOP serves chorizo and eggs alongside pancakes, crepes, and (yes) biscuits and gravy. And once I started down the chorizo road, a whole slew of accompaniments followed: guacamole! sour cream! salty, crumbly cotija cheese! Maybe even a fried egg, not just for the breakfast of it all, but also in a nod to the fried egg you’ll sometimes find on top of stacked enchiladas in West Texas and New Mexico.
By the time I was finally able to get to sleep, I had visions of breakfast dancing in my head: soft, multi-layered biscuits, smothered in spicy, tomatoey chorizo and garnished with a rainbow of accompaniments. I woke up feeling absolutely stuffed from all the dreamfood I’d eaten, is what I’m saying. And when the day finally came to put my research and planning into practice, I was so excited that I actually got up early — on a Saturday, which I just don’t do in the cold months — in order to make biscuits and throw together the topping.
And you know what? It was totally worth it.
Masa harina biscuits with chorizo topping
These biscuits are dynamite all by themselves — Jarod and I definitely ate a few of the leftovers with butter and honey and loved them — but when you combine them with the chorizo topping and a set of flavorful garnishes? Boy howdy. This is a breakfast worth getting up for, and I say that as a committed night owl.
Make ahead: if you hate mornings, like me, but still want a delicious brunch, both the biscuits and the chorizo topping can be pre-made . The biscuits will be fine at room temperature (once they’ve cooled completely, keep them in a bread box or a plastic bag if you’re making them a day before), and the chorizo can be reheated in the microwave or in a covered saucepan over low heat. Tada: almost-instant breakfast.
For the biscuits
1 3/4 c all-purpose flour
3/4 c masa harina
1/4 c cornmeal (plus extra for cutting the biscuits)
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
6 Tbsp cold butter in small pieces or pats
1 c + 2 Tbsp cold buttermilk
For the chorizo topping
1 lb. raw Mexican-style chorizo
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 med. red onion, diced
1 small can (14 oz.) diced tomatoes
To serve, any accompaniments/garnishes that seem good to you; some ideas:
Sliced green olives
Diced roasted chiles or peppers
For the biscuits
Preheat the oven to 450°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, masa harina, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. Cut the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry blender (or rub it in with your fingertips) until no pieces larger than a pea remain.
Pour in the buttermilk and stir until just combined, then knead the dough gently by folding it onto itself a half dozen times or so. With the buttermilk and the masa in the dough, it’s fairly forgiving, but don’t overdo it: you’re making biscuits, not loaf bread, so try not to overwork the dough.
Scatter cornmeal on a working surface and pat the dough out until it is is about an inch thick. Using a 3-inch biscuit cutter or a drinking glass, cut out biscuits and place on the prepared baking sheet. Gather up the scraps, brushing off excess cornmeal, and form them back together, then pat out again and cut more biscuits. (You can get away with doing this a couple of times; you should get about 8 biscuits total, give or take depending on their thickness.)
Bake for about 15 minutes on a baking sheet (you can line it when parchment if you like, but it’s not really necessary), until they are lightly browned. Let cool briefly on the pan, then hold in a bowl or basket, covered with a tea towel or napkin, until you’re ready to serve.
For the chorizo topping
If your chorizo came in links, remove it from its casing before you cook it. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, brown the chorizo, breaking it into small pieces as you go. Once the the pieces are fully browned and beginning to crisp (10 or 15 minutes, depending on the flame level), scoop out with a slotted spoon and reserve.
To the same pan, add the tablespoon of oil and cook the onion over medium-high heat for a few minutes, until softened and turning translucent. Increase heat to high and add the can of tomatoes. Cook, scraping the bottom to release the browned bits, until the liquid has mostly been cooked off.
Add back the cooked chorizo, including any oil and juices that have collected. Let simmer for a few seconds, then taste for seasoning — you likely won’t need to add any salt, but if you have a rather unsalted chorizo, feel free.
Split a biscuit and lay the two halves, face up, on a plate. Spoon a generous amount of the chorizo topping over each half, then add whatever toppings you like. I used guacamole, sour cream, a crispy fried egg, and a sprinkle of cotija — but use whatever you like!
The tastes of the masa harina and the chorizo together are sublime, and you should really try it. However, if you’re pressed for time or ingredients, you could use yor favorite non-masa harina biscuit recipe. You could also use a more typical taco meat/picadillo recipe for the topping, though of course the taste will be somewhat different.
Cotija is an aged, crumbly Mexican cheese, and worth buying. If you can’t find any, however, feta is an acceptable substitute. (For that matter, you can use any cheese you like — it’s your kitchen!)