While surfing the net, I discovered a site that lists unusual holidays and, as it turns out, October just happens to be “Eat Country Ham Month”. Though I don't need a designated holiday as an excuse to eat ham, the National Country Ham Association deemed it necessary to dedicate a whole month to this tasty meat product in 1999. My only question is … why October?
Investigations into why they chose this particular month came up empty (perhaps it was the only month available?), but I did discover some interesting tidbits regarding country ham, namely how it is different from any other kind of ham. “City” ham, or what one typically buys in the grocery store, has been wet-cured or injected with a brine made up of salt, sugar, curing agents and other seasonings, which give the product a mild, juicy flavor. Country ham, on the other hand, is usually dry-cured. This means that the meat has been rubbed with salts and seasonings, smoked and then aged, a process that could last anywhere from four months to three years. The finished country ham tends to have a more intense flavor and the meat is dryer and chewier than “city” ham.
Though country ham is practically a staple in other Southern cities, it's not commonly found on New Orleans restaurant menus. But I have seen it pop up from time to time, like during lunch a few months back at the newly opened Josephine Estelle. Located inside Ace Hotel on Carondelet Street, Josephine Estelle is a casual “osteria” where one can enjoy a fabulous lunch at a reasonable price. Among dishes like a soft shell crab po-boy and mafalde pasta with Maw-Maw's gravy, I discovered a wonderful small plate of asparagus served atop a fried egg with tiny mounds of pimento cheese,
a few small piles of golden trout roe, and a confetti of country ham sprinkled over everything. Though this was a small dish for $12, the flavors were so deep and rich that even I felt more sated than expected when finished.
Head Uptown to the corner of Magazine and Nashville and enjoy a lunch at Kenton's. Opened a year ago this month, this New York-style, bourbon whiskey-inspired restaurant offers dishes like snapper tartare, poached shrimp salad or a fried green tomato sandwich with buttermilk dressing and pickled onions. If you lunch with a group of friends, or even if you don't, you should certainly try their crispy grit cakes topped with thinly sliced country ham and drizzled with bourbon aioli. Since it's only $9, you might also try a plate of perfectly plump, fried Gulf oysters with pickled cucumber and jalapeno aioli … or you could just finish lunch with a hefty, 2-oz shot of Old Forester bourbon.
If you're looking for a truly Southern breakfast, head back Downtown for a French Quarter meal at the Rib Room. For over half a century, this iconic New Orleans restaurant has been a beloved go-to for visitors and locals alike serving what has to be one of the most popular prime ribs around. Step into a place of elaborate elegance with coffered ceilings, huge square columns set with streaked marble, and well-cushioned chairs, and try not to be shocked when for breakfast, you can score a low-country dish that's totally in your price range. Among Leidenheimer French Toast and Eggs Sardou is a giant plate of Country Ham Steak & Eggs served with Rib Room potatoes for only $16! After such a feast, with several cups of Community Coffee, you could conquer the world ... or head back to bed for a much-needed nap.