Country Ham with Stone-Ground Grits — Down-Home Comfort

Related To:

Country hams have long been a Southern staple and one old-time recipe is country ham served on a bed of creamy grits topped with redeye gravy. Redeye gravy is not gravy, nor is it red. It is made from coffee — or Coca-Cola — that is simply poured into the skillet to loosen the salty brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Food lore has two possible explanations for its unusual moniker: The first is that the county ham steak usually has a small round bone in the center (the femur) that resembles an eye. The second is that redeye refers to the caffeine in the coffee, making the dish a rousing breakfast.

Ham can be fresh, cured, or both cured and smoked. A ham is technically the front or back leg of a pig. A picnic ham or picnic shoulder is from the front upper portion of the leg and includes a portion of the shoulder. Ham can be fresh or cured. Fresh ham is unprocessed and pale pink to beige after cooking. Cured ham is usually deep pink as a result of the curing process, involving a combination of salt and spices and sometimes, but not always, smoke. Dry-cured ham like country ham, Italian prosciutto or Spanish Serrano is deep pink to mahogany red. Mass producers use nitrates, but the real old-fashioned, handcrafted country hams are a beautiful marriage of salt, smoke and patience. The salt eventually pulls so much moisture from the ham that bacteria cannot survive.

Country Ham with Stone Ground Grits and Red Eye Gravy

Country Ham with Stone Ground Grits and Red Eye Gravy

Photo by: Virginia Willis ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Right Reserved

Virginia Willis, 2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Right Reserved

It does sound bizarre, but redeye gravy is a combination that oddly works. The salty, sweet ham and the mildly sour bitterness of the coffee is a flavor explosion on top of the creamy grits. Ground corn in the form of grits is simple country food. Most Southerners love grits and I am no exception. I am a grits missionary. Comments like “I don’t like grits” cause me to react with purpose and intent to convert the uninitiated. If the only grits you have ever had came out of a packet and were cooked in a microwave, of course you don’t like grits! Give this dish a try for some eye-opening down-home comfort.

Bon Appétit, Y’all!

Georgia-born, French-trained Chef Virginia Willis has cooked lapin Normandie with Julia Child in France, prepared lunch for President Clinton and harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. A Southern food authority, she is the author of Bon Appétit, Y’all and Basic to Brilliant, Y'all , among others. Follow her continuing exploits at VirginiaWillis.com.

Keep Reading

Next Up

Shrimp and Grits — Down-Home Comfort

Down-home comfort has caught fire in the last 10 years or so with the classic low-country dish Shrimp and Grits. It’s being served in white tablecloth restaurants from Savannah to Seattle.

Country-Fried Steak — Down-Home Comfort

Country-fried steak is called chicken-fried steak in Texas and pan-fried steak, cube steak or smothered steak in other regions; but frankly, once you taste this dish of down-home comfort, you're not going to care what it's called.

Down-Home Comfort — Fresh Easter Ham with Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Fresh ham is nothing like the boozy bourbon-soaked and smoked holiday ham or the candy-sweet spiral wonder.

Classic Pound Cake — Down-Home Comfort

Buttery, rich pound cake might very well be the ultimate down-home comfort dessert.

Creole Crawfish Etouffee — Down-Home Comfort

Etoufee is a succulent, tangy tomato gravy usually made with crawfish or shrimp that traditionally starts with a dark-brown roux. Crawfish and shrimp etoufees are Cajun country specialties.

Brown Sugar-Strawberry Shortcakes — Down-Home Comfort

Perhaps the most-famous shortcake dessert is strawberry shortcake. These shortcakes are split and the bottoms are covered with a layer of strawberries and whipped cream. They are divine down-home comfort.

Buttermilk Biscuits with Sausage Gravy — Down-Home Comfort

Biscuits with sausage gravy are a rib-sticking way to start the day. They are a no-nonsense breakfast, the he-man of down-home comfort.

Baked Corn Pudding — Down-Home Comfort

Nowadays, many modern recipes call for a can of creamed corn and a box of cornbread mix, but you know my classic recipes in this column are all about fresh and wholesome down-home comfort!

Down-Home Comfort: Slow-Cooker Brunswick Stew

Brunswick stew, a thick, substantial stew of meat and vegetables, fits the bill of down-home comfort.

On the Road Eats: Comfort Food Across the Country

Take a road trip with Food Network stars to discover their favorite comfort foods, from chili over nachos in Cleveland to chicken and waffles in Las Vegas.