Reverend Jesse Waldrop is my wife’s father and just plain Papaw to us. He’s a transplanted Tennessee hillbilly preacher who found his way down to bayou country. For over forty years, the Reverend has walked the back roads of Acadiana spreading the gospel and selling the Good Book door-to-door. Known far and wide for his trademark blue shoes and his booming voice, he’s a one-of-a-kind, bona fide original man-of-God.
According to Jesse, there are few things a man needs as along as he’s got Jesus. But, if you were to ask him what he’d like to sit down to for his last supper before going to meet his maker, it’d be his family recipe of taters ‘n onions along with a thick slab of country ham and red-eye.
Red-eye gravy is that rich, heady brew that seems to pump through the veins of most Southerners and is made from country ham juices spiked with a varying list of ingredients. Across the South, it is common for Coca-Cola to infuse a good red-eye. In South Louisiana, we’re partial to the earthy flavor of black coffee. Yes indeed, Cajuns are raised on the stuff and most all Louisianans love their dark roast coffee. And for my Cajun recipe for red-eye, black day-old coffee has a deep flavor profile that creates an umami sense of taste in this dish. It works.
A country ham steak is a thing of beauty. The key is finding a good quality ham sliced half–inch thick with the eye-bone intact and a thick ring of fat around the steak. I like to slice off most of that fat, but don’t even think of throwing it away. Cut the fat up into small pieces for the base lard for frying. This is about searing and sizzling both the ham and the liquids. Quick fry the ham and deglaze the pan with a quick coffee reduction and a teaspoon of dark Louisiana sugarcane molasses to give this a Cajun recipe punch. The sugarcane syrup counterbalances the saltiness of the ham resulting in perfect harmony.
I made this Taters ‘n Onions with Country Ham Steak dish for the Reverend recently and embellished a bit on the Smoky Mountain version with a sweet and spicy, down-home, Cajun recipe style. After a few bites, I waited for my judgment day. Papaw proclaimed it was “a good measure — pressed down, shaken together, and running over” and I guess Luke 6:38 is about as good of praise as I could expect for my taters ‘n onions, ham and red-eye dinner.
You can judge for yourself.
- 1 large ½-inch thick, bone-in country ham steak, with fat ring trimmed and reserved
- 1 cup day-old dark roast coffee
- 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon sugarcane molasses
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 4 large russet potatoes
- 6 strips of pork jowl bacon or smoked bacon
- 1 pound bulk breakfast sausage with sage, such as Jimmy Dean
- ½ pound diced tasso or smoked ham
- 2 large yellow onions, sliced
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Dash of hot sauce
- Kosher salt
- ¼ cup chicken stock
- 4 poached eggs, optional
- In a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat, add the trimmed fat from the ham. Cook the pieces of fat until most of the fat is rendered out and then remove and discard the remaining pieces. Add the ham steak to the hot lard in the skillet and sear over medium-high heat until brown on one side, about 8 minutes. Turn and brown on the other side making sure to sear the outer surface of the ham steak until caramelized. Remove the ham steak to a platter and keep warm.
- Turn the heat to high under the skillet and in the remaining fat and juices, add the day-old coffee. Bring to a boil and add the brown sugar and cane molasses and stir. Add the pepper and continue to cook until the liquid reduces to about ½ cup and takes on a syrupy consistency. Turn off the heat and pour the red-eye into a bowl and keep at room temperature.
- Peel the potatoes and slice thinly into rounds. Set aside.
- Wipe the bottom of the large cast-iron skillet from before and over medium heat, add the pork jowl bacon and fry until crispy and remove. To the leftover bacon grease, add the breakfast sausage and using a spatula, break down into small pieces. Stir it until browned and fully cooked. Remove the sausage onto a platter. Pour off most of the fat into a bowl and retain.
- Add the tasso and sauté for about 5 minutes until slightly brown. Remove and place on a platter with the sausage.
- Add a few tablespoons of the reserved fat back into the skillet and turn the heat to medium-high. Add the sliced onions and cook until they begin to brown and start to caramelize, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped rosemary. Remove to the platter with the meat.
- Add a few tablespoons of the reserved fat back into the skillet and return the heat to medium-high. Add the sliced potatoes and cook until they begin to brown and start to caramelize, about 5 minutes.
- Lower the heat and return the onions, pork jowl bacon, sausage, and tasso back to the pan and layer together, evenly distributing all. Season the contents with sugar, black pepper, a dash of hot sauce, and salt. Once the skillet is beginning to sizzle, add the chicken stock and place the lid tightly on top. There should be very little steam escaping. Cook together for about 10 minutes. Remove the lid and continue cooking until most of the stock has evaporated. Once done, turn off the heat and cover until ready to serve.
- Serve this dish family style by moving the black iron skillet to the center of the table. Place the ham steak on top and spoon some of the red-eye over the meat and let it drizzle into the potatoes and onions. Serve the rest of the gravy warm on the side.
- Optionally, add a poached egg on top.
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