In Thunderball (1961), before Commander Pedersen tucks into his slice of apple pie on board the US Navy’s submarine, the Manta, he enjoys a meal of Virginia ham with red-eye gravy.
On discovering the essential ingredient of red-eye gravy, I wasn’t surprised that James Bond opted for poached eggs. In his place, I think I would have gone for something that’s tried and tested too. However, having prepared and consumed the dish myself now, I can confirm that, together, the ham and gravy is a taste sensation.
First, the ham. Traditionally, Virginia ham is meat, taken from the hind leg of a wild pig, which has been cured in salt and smoked with apple and hickory wood. The ham is hung in the smokehouse to age. If Virginia ham is unavailable, a good-quality salt-cured and wood-smoked gammon makes a fine alternative (and is what I’ve used for this recipe).
Red-eye gravy is made from coffee, which is used to deglaze the pan used to fry slices of ham.
The use of coffee sounds most improbable, but in combination with the ham, the resulting gravy somehow works. For my first taste, I dipped a morsel of ham in a cup of gravy and with trepidation lifted it to my mouth. Before too long, I was pouring the gravy liberally over my slice. Have a go; I think you’ll be very pleasantly surprised.
Incidentally, my gammon joint was ready to cook when I bought it. Other joints may need soaking before cooking.
- 2 slices, c. 10-15mm thick, from salt-cured and wood-smoked gammon joint (or two gammon steaks, if preferred)
- 120ml freshly-brewed coffee
- Pinch black pepper
Place a deep frying pan on a high heat. When the pan begins to smoke, add the two gammon slices. Turn the heat down to medium and fry with slices without oil for 5 minutes on each side. Once cooked, transfer the ham to a serving plate.
Keep the pan on the medium heat. Pour the coffee in the pan and scrape the fat and bits of ham from the base of the pan as the coffee bubbles. Add the pepper and allow the gravy to bubble away for about minute until the liquid has reduced by half. Pour the gravy into a jug or other suitable vessel.
Serve the ham slices and pour as little or as much of the gravy as you like over the top.