Ever since he took a 1996 road trip to Princeton, Ky., and discovered Newsom's country ham, chef Jim Gerhardt has explored its smoky and salty permutations.
Now splitting his time between the Oakroom and Limestone restaurants, Gerhardt has gone frequently to the country ham frontier -- using it for, among other things, tapenade, deviled eggs, even crab cakes.
But here's his best and easiest recipe for success: Thin-slice country ham, cut it into one-eighth-inch strips and then cut again into cubes. Saute it over mild heat in olive oil (don't let it smoke). Dry it on paper and save the oil. These firmed-up ham bits are perfect as a shrimp-and-grits garnish or for sprinkling on salads.
And the oil -- oh, the oil -- becomes a base for an ingenious country ham vinaigrette. (Hint: puree together three egg yolks, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, the juice of two lemons, two ounces apple cider vinegar and one tablespoon minced shallots, then slowly add about 12 ounces of olive oil to desired consistency and salt and pepper to taste.)
You're still not done. Keep the bone, drop it into veal stock and reduce the liquid by half, then add a little pepper. "That's the sauce for our pork chop," Gerhardt says.