Oh, the lowly country ham. The salty southern staple has faded in popularity over the past few years, but get ready people, because it’s making a comeback. With “local” and “artisanal” being all the rage, some of the South’s most respected ham curers have finally caught on to the trend.
Country ham – known for its heavy salting and long curing process – was originally born out of thrift during hard economic times. It earned its keep at the southern table, however, when resourceful cooks smothered it with red eye gravy and sandwiched it between fluffy buttermilk biscuits. (Yes, please!)
But with the changing tastes of southern cooks (and eaters), along with the exponential influence of global cuisines, people are finding new ways to incorporate country ham into their recipes. Instead of thick slabs of meat served up entrée style, it’s now being used as more of a garnish, topping soups, salads and everything in between. Sliced paper thin, country ham is even competing with the fancy prosciutto and Serrano hams from abroad at just a fraction of the cost.
Take this Italian-inspired antipasto, for instance. It is the perfect way to highlight the best southern ingredients of spring and break away from the usual (read: boring) Easter fare. The saltiness of the country ham, peppery bite of the arugula, and sweetness of the strawberries and asparagus all marry into a truly inspired seasonal appetizer. What’s even better is that this beautiful dish will transition perfectly into winter (ripe figs!), summer (sweet Georgia peaches!), and fall (pears!).
Country Ham Antipasto
Serves 6-8 (recipe can be easily doubled)
Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 20 minutes
4 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto-style country ham
4 ounces asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 ounces strawberries, pitted and sliced thin
1/2 cup arugula
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
Balsamic glaze, to taste
- Bring water to a boil in a large pot. Add asparagus and cook until bright green but still crisp, about 1 minute. Drain and pat dry.
- Arrange country ham, asparagus, and strawberries onto a medium-sized serving platter. Garnish with arugula and feta. Drizzle with the balsamic glaze, to taste.
NOTE: When seeking out prosciutto-style country ham, be sure to look for hams that have been aged at least eight months.
Nealey moved from Alabama to the West Coast to follow her dreams, only to realize once there how much she missed good ol’ country cooking. So she took to the kitchen and began recreating the dishes of her past, but this time without any help from a can. What started out as a hobby turned into an obsession, so she quit her day job to pursue cooking – and eating – full time. Dixie Caviar is where you can follow her pursuits of all things Southern.