It just about don’t get much more Southern than red-eye gravy. When half your suburban neighbors have never heard of it and the other half have never eaten it, we can either call it old-school or we can put another hash mark on our “reasons to move back out the country” log.
I grew up eating it. My nanny made it mostly. And since Nanny spent half her life in a dirt-floor house, I think it’s safe to call this one-old school. Fo sho.
I've heard two theories as to where red-eye gravy got its name. The one I always reckoned was when you serve it on grits, you make a little well or indentation in the grits to hold the gravy so it doesn't run all over the place and it kinda looks like a red eye.
The other I've heard is that when you add the coffee to the pan, the grease takes on a red tint and kinda swirls all together like a red eye. Since this makes me think of gasoline in a mud puddle and/or some creepy character in a sci-fi movie, I like to stick to the first theory.
For those of you who have never had red-eye gravy, I need to warn you this isn’t really gravy. It’s more like a hot liquid that’s only slightly reduced. It runs all over the plate and gets on everything.
My favorite way to have this is with fried ham, fresh-sliced tomatoes and biscuits. I end up mixing half my tomatoes into my grits and sop it all up with a biscuit.
Man, dang. My mouth is watering.
1 pound thick country ham or cured ham slices (country ham is customary)
1 tablespoon bacon grease or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup strong black coffee*
1/2 cup water
Pinch of salt
Heat a medium or large cast iron frying pan over medium heat (you can use other types of frying pans but the best red-eye gravy is made in a cast iron pan). Add bacon grease or vegetable oil to hot pan then fry ham until nicely browned on each side. Do not cook at a higher heat than medium. You do not want your pan drippings to burn or brown too much or your gravy will taste burnt.
Remove ham from pan then add butter. Stir butter until melted then add coffee. Using a wooden spoon, scrape up all the lovely ham bits from the pan. Add water and salt then continue cooking over medium heat until the gravy is simmering. Once simmering, cook for 4-5 minutes or until gravy is slightly reduced. Taste for salt and add if necessary.
Serve over ham and grits.
*We make our coffee really strong so I usually make my red-eye gravy with half coffee and half water and let it reduce a little. If you make your coffee on the weak side, you can probably use all coffee and omit the water.
This recipe was featured at the Weekend Potluck!
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