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Aug 16, 2003 04:44 PM

Country Ham

  • m

Several years ago, a friend in Virginia took us to several small lunch counter spots in downtown Norfolk where we had some excellent Viriginia / "country" ham served, both as a lunch entree and with breakfast. This was vastly superior to the boiled / processed / pre-cooked version with no texture and less taste that passes in these parts as "ham". I actually purchased several hams in Virginia to bring home and try to duplicate the flavor back in Chicago. Unfortunately, after all of the soaking (48 hours!), changing water every 12 hours, skinning, boiling (another 3 hours, with a fresh water change), and a pineapple/brown sugar glaze, the result was something that *looked* fantastic, but was still so unbelievably SALTY that it reminded one of Craig Breedlove's race track. I eventually wound up using small parts of it to season unsalted soups and bean dishes. Where in Chicago or environs can one find genuine "country" ham, either to prepare at home, or served at a good breakfast/lunch spot?

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  1. Dear MFK9,

    I'm a Norfolk, Virginia native, and have never stopped singing the praises of that dense, dark, salty country ham found throughout the southern and sometimes midwestern US.

    You're in luck. Paulina Market carries Joyner's Red Eye hams, both as whole hams in the cloth bags, with the authentic mold (you remember, you have to scrub, then soak overnight, changing the water several times) or sliced (raw,thinly sliced, and perfect for pan frying, ready for that great batch of biscuits).

    During the Christmas season, Paulina has the ham pre-sliced and in cryovac bags, ready to throw in your basket. I was there just the other day, and didn't see any pre-sliced and packaged, but I did see the hams hanging. Their butchers are all extremely helpful. On Saturdays and during their busy times, it's best to take a number.

    Another really neat item I saw at Paulina this past Christmas, was whole bone in pork loin with the rind on. Can you imagine that roasted pork sliced into chops, with that crisp rind outside each chop, with the natural pan juices along with some braised red cabbage or some sauerkraut? Or cold and sliced thin, on Kauffman's corn rye with hot dijon mustard and pickled watermelon rind, washed down with an ice cold beer?

    Some items not to miss at Paulina are the coarse liverwurst with bacon which is made in house, numerous smoked items, meat and fowl, and hard to find items such as beef kidney fat, rendered pork and goose lard, a large selection of thaw and eat frozen entrees, and a nice selection of dried pastas, spaetzle, dried fruit, pickes of all types, condiments, and imported gourmet items.

    The fresh breakfast links, which come eight to a pound, are also especially good with some nice soft scrambled eggs or that plate of French toast.

    Paulina Market
    3501 N. Lincoln Ave.
    Closed Sundays

    Evil Ronnie

    8 Replies
    1. re: Evil Ronnie

      As we're singing the praises of Paulina, I'll throw a couple of other items in.

      I only buy steaks there (I mean, I don't buy steaks elsewhere). Had a T-Bone tonight out on the grill. As good as steak gets.

      Lanjaegers are sort of in-between summer sausage and jerky. What I really like is that they keep them hanging up to dry, organized by dry, sort of moist, or freshly made, and ask you which you want. (You want at least sort of moist, or dry.)

      I keep a vacuum-packed Paulina smoked chicken breast or two in the fridge at all times, just a standard item to chop for a salad or pasta or whatever. They last quite a while, by some mysterious alchemy. Once when I ate at Grace (I think) this item was listed on the menu as if it were something really fancy and artisanal from a local producer, which of course it is, but it was pretty funny to suddenly think of one of my basic ingredients that way (at a much inflated price).

      There are so many old German things there I've never tried-- kaiserfleisch, rheinwurst, who under 70 knows what so many of those things are? I must find out; at least Ron has told me what to do with those hams in bags I've seen hanging there for years. In the meantime they set the standard for so many of the mundane to slightly exotic things I live on. I have bacon or ham that isn't theirs, I wonder what's wrong with it. I can't imagine buying things like braunschweiger at a normal grocery store. What would be the point?

      You know what I really like? That you can ask them how to cook something, and they know the answer and will tell you all about it. And they'll be right...

      1. re: Mike G


        A couple of other things I like at Paulina are the lamb sausage sticks and single smoked bacon. The lamb stick, about 10-inches long and 1/4 the diameter of the lanjaegers make for excellent snacking or diced in omelets. The single smoke bacon fits my taste exactly, not overly smokey, for a BBQ guy I like things with a lighter smoke than most, and just the right fat to lean ratio.

        Paulinas steaks are good, but I am not as 'in love' with them as you seem to be, and the last time I bought rib lamb chops they struck me as quite bland/mild/flavorless, especially given the price.

        Actually, I am still a bit peeved at Paulina, a few weeks ago I bought caul fat to wrap sausage I was making, then smoking and did not check inside the package, which was frozen and said caul fat. It turned out to be leaf lard, which proved to be a problem.


        1. re: G Wiv

          You still have it? Make pie crust. (See Saveur an issue or two back.)

          I never know what the differences between bacons at Paulina are-- they have several varieties but I just say bacon. Is that smoked?

          1. re: Mike G


            Paulina offers two basic types of bacon, at least that I am aware of, single-smoked and double-smoked. I realize I am stating the obvious, but the double is quite a bit more smokey then the single and, to my mind, is best suited as an ingredient rather than the breakfast table or BLT's.

            I still have the leaf lard and, yes, I intend to use it for the Saveur pie crust recipe, but at the time I was ticked at Paulina. The caul fat was the finishing touch on a caseless sausage I was making and, as it was late at night, there was not much chance of getting caul fat anywhere, even in Chicago.


            1. re: G Wiv

              In a pinch, you could have wrapped it in bacon which had been simmered in water to reduce the salt and smokiness.

              1. re: CAthy2


                Actually, I did wrap the sausage in bacon, Paulina single-smoke that I had bought with the supposed caul fat. While the sausage was quite good in and of itself, I was looking for a specific flavor, texture and shape for which I needed caul fat.

                I did not blanch the bacon, that's an excellent suggestion, thank you, though hopefully this problem will not arise again.


                1. re: G Wiv


                  Ah, now I know where to get caul fat the next time I make a pate. I've always used the bacon simmered before.

                  Best regards,

      2. re: Evil Ronnie
        Mohamad Chowdry

        Paulina encased meats are some of the best I've had. I particularly fancy the veal brats.

      3. Hi!

        Cute ... salt flats and Craig Breedlove's race track. You know his car is at the Science and Industry Museum.

        I went to school in Washington, D.C. and marveled at the Smithfield hams in all the grocery stores. Prior to a visit home, I purchased and soaked one of those babies in a 5 gallon pail. Brought it home wrapped in plastic on an airplane. We all tried it eagerly. We concluded this type of ham is an acquired taste.

        My friend whose sister lives in Richmond, Virginia - is gifted a Virginia ham every other year. She soaks and boils - ect - serves it as thin slices on biscuits.

        Last year, her sister sent a precooked Smithfield ham, where the producer did the soaking, boiling, ect. All she had to do was heat it up to instructions. This was the best one we have tried so far. Yes, it was salty - that is the nature of the beast - and very delicious. She now wonders if she gave enough time to processing the classic Virginia hams before serving.

        Based on her last gift ham, I would consider buying a mail order Virginia ham from Smithfield where they already did the cooking. Those hams are too expensive to be disappointed.

        FYI - My friend gets these hams every other year at her request. Whatever is leftover is frozen and used to add character to various meals. Thus it takes her 2 years to finish each ham.


        1. Binny's on Clark carried slices of a very good country ham for some time. If you don't like the saltiness, buy the slices and simply simmer them in a sauce pan in water for 10-12 minutes.

          1. Acquired taste indeed, particularly with the red eye gravy which as far as I can tell is grease and salt. Having said that, I also really like country ham and have it whenever I can find it. A few years ago I was doing a sales presentation in the middle of Kentucky, and my habit is to ask where the place for the best local food is, in this case Country Ham. They pointed me to the local Cracker Barrel. Now, I can give you a multitude of reasons to dislike this chain as much as any other, but you can get a meal there which consists of a respectable portion of country ham, and fried okra. And it is okay. So keep it in mind when you have a craving or have to stop somewhere off the highway.


            2 Replies
            1. re: dickson d

              Redeye gravy-- grease and salt, for sure (being the drippings from the ham), but also a cup or two of strong black coffee. I love it. (But I also love anchovies and bacalao that hasn't been soaked back to blandness.)

              1. re: JeffB

                Not greasy if you know how to do it. Deglazing the frying pan of fairly thick slices of country ham - and you can trim off as much fat edge as you like - with a little strong coffee. If you object to salty, you should not ne eating country ham.

                Try the gravy with grits or biscuits. If you can't handle that, stick to fried bologna.

            2. I echo the recommendation for the Paulina Market; I've bought and prepared their country ham and, while it was a bit salty, there were no leftovers. (I bought a shank, not a whole ham, for four people.) I changed it in a fairly large bucket and changed the water three times a day for three days -- don't know how much practical difference that makes over 2x/day for two days.