Red Eye Gravy and Country Ham
Country ham is to American cooks what prosciutto is to Italians. I must be a southerner born and bred because honestly I’d rather have a nice Virginia country ham than prosciutto. A real country ham is salt-cured, and either not smoked or only lighted smoked. On a properly cured ham the fat is soft and easy to eat. There are a wide variety of ways to eat country ham, and you can buy them both cooked and uncooked. (Note the two embedded links in the above paragraph for examples.)
One of my favorite ways is sliced thin and fried in a skillet. All you use are the ham and just enough butter to coat the bottom of the pan. I cook it at around 250 degrees and just leave it, flipping it once, but otherwise ignoring it for 12-15 minutes. That’s not hot enough to burn the fat or the butter, but is plenty hot to cook it through and give a nice crispness to the exterior.
Nothing could be simpler than red-eye gravy, although I am constantly amazed at how often it is done wrong. The Wikipedia description of how to make it actually makes me queasy and a bit horrified. Eww.
I melt equal volumes of butter and brown sugar with all the remaining ham grease from cooking the ham, then add about three to four times the same volume of left over coffee. Add the coffee last to deglaze the pan, then turn the heat up a bit and reduce it, stirring constantly until it begins to thicken. Shake a few shakes of black pepper over it. Pour it off into a bowl, scraping out the thicker parts on the bottom as well.
Ham grease, Butter, Brown Sugar — equal volume of each
Coffee — Add 2-4 times the volume of the above of coffee, to deglaze the above, then reduce
Black pepper — several shakes of black pepper while reducing.
This morning I fried up some ham and made some hard dry rye toast. I made red eye gravy using 2 tbls of butter, 2 tbls of brown sugar, and about ½ a cup of strong coffee left over from our morning pot. I covered the toast with cream cheese, then put on a layer of the ham, and sauced red-eye gravy on the top. Frankly, this was “oh my god” good.
A few tips. When I first learned to make redeye gravy, it was using coffee that had been in a percolator for a couple of hours. So using old strong coffee is a good thing. If you have enough ham grease you can add less butter, or add more butter to make a larger quantity of gravy. Having some good fond from the ham in the pan is excellent for the deglazing part, it adds more flavor.