Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Country Ham: Another Great Kentucky Product.
I call the above “a baggie of bliss.” Many convenience stores in Kentucky sell them at the cash register. It’s just a slice of Kentucky country ham between two pieces of white bread, and it is sublime.
Although bourbon whiskey is Kentucky’s best known consumable, it’s not the only Kentucky product that I crave. I’ve written before about other local specialties such as the Hot Brown Sandwich. Today I rise in praise of Kentucky country ham.
Country ham is a characteristic Southern food and not limited to Kentucky, but most of my experience has been with the Kentucky version. Kentucky country ham is salt-cured and its saltiness is what you notice first. It’s too much for some people. But behind the salt there is a wonderful, rich flavor that quickly spoils you for any other type of ham.
Most of the country ham producers in Kentucky are small and family-owned. It’s a good product for mail order because it doesn’t have to be refrigerated. You can buy everything from packages of ‘biscuit slices’ up to whole hams. Finchville Farms is a brand I can usually pick up at Kroger’s in Kentucky when I’m visiting there and it’s the one I’ve enjoyed most recently, but there are many others that are just as good. Country ham is also surprisingly inexpensive.
Although country ham doesn’t have to be refrigerated it is raw and needs to be cooked before eating. I always get slices, which can be fried in a hot, dry skillet in a few minutes, just until the meat starts to brown. Don’t overcook, because it gets tough if you do.
Although it’s very simple, it took me a while to master red eye gravy, mostly because I kept expecting it to be something it’s not. After you finish cooking the ham, remove it from the skillet and add a small amount of water to deglaze the skillet. Some people use coffee instead. Use a spoon or spatula to loosen the flavorful residue and keep stirring it as the liquid reduces. It will thicken only slightly. Then pour it over the ham. It’s not gravy in the normal sense. Mostly it’s used to enhance the flavor of the meat while also giving it back some of its moisture, making it more tender.
Kentucky country ham and Kentucky bourbon complement each other well because both are highly flavorful. Kentucky country ham is usually eaten at breakfast, but finger sandwiches of country ham tucked inside beaten biscuits are popular at parties. Kurtz’s Restaurant, in Bardstown, offers a dinner of country ham and fried chicken that is hard to resist.