I’m putting my country roots in full view today. Yes, I’m reaching way back into the past for this post. Back to something that was an ordinary, every day part of life when I was growing up – Country Ham with Red Eye Gravy. I would be willing to bet that there’s no one who grew up in a rural area of the Southeastern U.S. who doesn’t know what country ham and red-eye gravy are. This was just about the most common breakfast served in Southern households for a very long time.
I suppose the best known country hams are the Smithfield brand. They’re definitely good hams. Salty, dry cured hams that take on a deep red color and a chewy texture. Back before Smithfield became a household word, however, country families cured their own hams. The time for butchering hogs was always the first frost in the Fall. I have very vague childhood memories of the adults doing the Fall butchering. The most persistent of those memories is the smell of my grandparents’ smokehouse. It was a tiny little building set to the back of their house. I can just barely remember the meats hanging up in there and a steady, very slow smoke filling the whole place. There was always that pungent, smoky smell which got into your clothes and your hair but which made the meats coming from that smokehouse so delicious!
Country ham was one of my Daddy’s favorite things. Second only to a good t-bone steak. After he had a major heart attack, however, the t-bones and country ham were on the long list of things that he had to give up. Even so, Mama would always make country ham for him once a year on Christmas morning. I think he looked forward to Christmas breakfast as much as he did any other part of the day!
Now, country ham is salty. Actually, that’s an understatement. Country ham is extremely salty. Some people cook it right out of the package, salt and all, but I like to let it soak overnight in a little milk bath. It takes away a lot of the salt and starts to break down the chewiness of the ham just a bit, I think.
The next morning, dry the ham off with paper towels. Then heat a skillet over medium heat and add a little oil. Cook the ham until the surface temperature is 160 degrees (or according to the package directions on whatever brand you purchase). I gauge it by whether the fat is cooked through. When the fat is cooked, the ham is done. Remove the ham from the pan and keep it warm.
Now, admittedly your pan is probably looking pretty dismal at this point. It’s going to have a lot of dark browned stuff in the bottom, but that’s okay! That’s going to make your red-eye gravy all that much better. Also, you’re probably not going to have much moisture in the pan. Most country hams are too dry to give off much liquid.
Mix together the water, coffee and cornstarch and add it to the pan. Now here’s where some of you are going to disagree with me and that’s on the use of cornstarch. I know, I know…traditionally red-eye gravy does not have any thickening agent added. It’s a thin sauce. But I like mine with a little body so I add a touch of cornstarch. If you want to stay true to the traditional recipe, just leave it out. We’ll still be friends :-)
Serve the red-eye gravy over plain or cheese grits, cut a biscuit open and drizzle it on, or spoon it over the country ham. If you want a real, old-fashioned country treat, cut open a biscuit and dip the cut sides quickly into the gravy. Put a piece of country ham and a spoonful of Mayhaw jelly inside. Close your eyes, take a bite and say “Yummmm…..” All text and photographs on Never Enough Thyme are copyright protected. Please do not use any material from this site without obtaining prior permission. If you'd like to post this recipe on your site, please create your own original photographs and either re-write the recipe in your own words or link to this post.
All text and photographs on Never Enough Thyme are copyright protected. Please do not use any material from this site without obtaining prior permission. If you'd like to post this recipe on your site, please create your own original photographs and either re-write the recipe in your own words or link to this post.
More information about country hams and red-eye gravy you might enjoy from around the internet:
- What’s Cooking America: History of Country Ham and Red-Eye Gravy
- The Country Ham Store
- Emeril Lagasse’s Country Ham and Red-Eye Gravy
- Paula Deen’s Country Ham and Red-Eye Gravy
What I was cooking…