Have I told you about Neena? Neena is my mom. Neena is what all of her grandchildren call her. It started when my daughter, L, was a baby and tried to say her name but it came out sounding like Nee-Nah. And she’s been Neena ever since.
Neena is a fabulous cook and southern cuisine is her specialty. I swear, the woman can whip up the fanciest dinner you ever saw out of whatever is in her pantry and freezer at any time. It’s kind of amazing. Really.
This dish, like so many wonderful recipes, came about out of necessity. The necessity of substituting an ingredient called for in a recipe with something you have on hand. I’m sure most everyone has had the classic “Company Chicken” recipe that calls for lining the baking dish with chipped beef, right? Well, Neena started making that recipe one day only to find at the last minute that she had no chipped beef on hand. Did she run out to the grocery store for that one ingredient? Why, of course not! She substituted what she had available and, let me tell you something, the result was incredible. What she used in place of the chipped beef was country ham! That’s right, good old-fashioned salty country ham.
If you’re not familiar with country ham, please understand that it is very different from any other type of ham. Country ham is salt-cured and sometimes smoked. The curing-smoking process gives it a deep red color. It’s usually sold unrefrigerated (no refrigeration needed because of the curing process), and often served inside a hot, buttered biscuit. I think it compares closely to prosciutto, although prosciutto is not smoked. It has a very distinct, almost pungent, taste. My Daddy absolutely adored country ham. When he got older and began having heart problems, he couldn’t eat it because of the salt content, but Mama would cook a little bit for him on Christmas morning. I think he looked forward to that piece of country ham on Christmas nearly as much as all the other Christmas activities!
To make Neena’s Country Chicken you will need:
10 oz. country ham
6 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
3 slices thick-cut bacon
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
2 cups sour cream
1/3 cup milk or light cream
1 tsp. black pepper
Preheat the oven to 300F.
That’s what country ham looks like. Dark red and sliced very thin. Make sure you use country ham, not deli ham or ham slices or spiral cut or anything like that. Line your baking pan with a single layer of country ham. I’m making a half recipe in the photos, so if you’re making the full recipe you’ll probably need two baking dishes.
Arrange the chicken breasts on top of the ham. Top each chicken breast with a half slice of thick cut bacon. Combine the soup, sour cream, milk or light cream and pepper in a bowl. Pour evenly over chicken breasts.
You won’t need any additional salt in this dish. Remember the country ham is very salty! As a matter of fact, if you’re not sure about the saltiness of your ham, I’d advise you to cook up a tiny piece and taste it. If you think it will make the dish too salty, you might want to soak the ham in milk for a few hours to remove some of the salt.
Cover the pan with aluminum foil and place it in your preheated oven. Cook for 1 hour. Remove foil and cook for an additional hour.
Serve chicken and sauce over hot, fluffy rice.