This quick and easy Ham and Red-Eye Gravy is a classic Southern staple. By using an already cooked center-cut ham slice, all you have to add is some sizzle. This recipe truly avoids the fuss-factor and gets right down to delicious.
The first time I ever heard about red-eye gravy was reading about it in my Little House on the Prairie books when I was a kid. Growing up in southern California, I don’t ever remember seeing red-eye gravy on a menu anywhere, let alone anyone making it at home.
However, I could envision Ma from the Little House series setting the table with country ham, hot biscuits, red-eye gravy, fried potatoes and eggs for Pa and the girls. Let’s just say even as a kid I imagined food and how it tasted and looked on plates. And red-eye gravy always had me curious. To this day I can always remember what someone was eating in a novel I read. Yes, weirdo alert.
It wasn’t until I took a trip to the South many years later did I finally see red-eye gravy on an actual menu. All the memories of reading about this gravy as a child came flooding back and I knew I had to order this iconic dish. Before I knew it, in front of me was a big slice of country ham, covered in thin-gravy, with hot biscuits to sop it all up. One bite and ummm…whoa…wow…classic red-eye gravy really packed a punch. Like pow. Who knew?
My first bite of this iconic classic wasn’t what I necessarily imagined. It was so, so bold, slightly bitter and in your face. You could even say the taste was polarizing to some extent. I didn’t dislike it, but it wasn’t necessarily my favorite flavor either.
Years and years and years went by and I never really forgot about this very simplistic-in your face dish. I’m sure like many classic dishes red-eye gravy hales from a time where there was a need to make use of everything in the kitchen and stretch flavor where you could. Makes sense right? However, for me, and I didn’t even know it at the time, what was missing in this dish was balance.
Eons later and with my winemaking degree under my belt, my daily work consists of taking what mother nature gives me in the vineyard and challenges me to strike a balance with the acid, alcohol, tannin and sweetness in the wine I make. It’s not an easy task.
Many of the same rules apply with cooking food or making a cocktail; the flavors need to balance and round each-other out. I can tell you for fact, classic red-eye gravy does not have balance. It just reaches right out and punches you in the face. Hard.
In order to give this dish a little equilibrium I took some liberties, albeit very small ones, to make this classic dish more mainstream or palatable for those of us who did not grow up with this staple.I hope no one minds…too much.
Have you had red-eye gravy before? Did you grow up with it? Do you love its punch you in the face flavors or do you prefer it toned down? I’d love to hear your experiences and ideal way you love to enjoy it.
If refrigerated biscuits are not your thing, make my tried and true Buttermilk Biscuits (with Tips and Tricks) to get the perfect biscuit every time! They are amazing with red-eye gravy. If you just love Southern food of any kind, give this Traditional Southern Banana Pudding a try. It’s amazing. However, maybe it’s Grandmama’s Chocolate Chess Pie that has you reeling for something sweet. One of my favorite side dishes is this Southern Green Beans and Potatoes…I can never get enough of it.
Ham and Biscuits with Red Eye-Gravy
- 1 tube refrigerated biscuits
- 1.5 lbs center cut ham steak
- 1-1/2 Tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 Tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup strong coffee
- 1/4 cup chicken broth
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- salt and pepper to taste
- Bake refrigerated biscuits according to package directions.
- Blot ham steak with paper towel until dry and sprinkle each side with brown sugar.
- Heat a large, preferably cast iron skillet, over medium heat and melt butter. Brown ham slice well on both sides. Remove from skillet; cover and keep warm.
- Add coffee, chicken broth and mustard to the skillet and bring to a boil until slightly thickened, but it will still be very thin. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve ham and gravy on sliced hot biscuits.
- Note: Classic Red-Eye Gravy would be made with just the fat from frying the ham and strong coffee and in some cases the broth. It's a real eye-opener!