[upbeat music] - [Sheri] Coming up on "The Key Ingredient".
Many of us believe that Alan Benton is the key of Country Ham.
- This room, as you can tell, this is one of two rooms that I use to age the the Old Heritage hams.
- [Sheri] We learn his expert secrets behind Benton's Smoky Mountain Country Hams that rule in kitchens across the land.
We cook along with Allan and his wife Sharron, to make their famous biscuits and red eye gravy.
- I'm gonna fry the ham, while our biscuits are cooking, it doesn't take that long to make red eye gravy.
- [Sheri] And I share some recipes that showcase country ham right down to the bone, that's next.
- I'm Sheri Castle, I write cookbooks.
I write for food magazines.
I cook, I teach and I collect stories.
And my favorite stories are the ones behind our best loved home recipe.
Can you eat just rice like this?
- Could try.
- Here we go.
Oh, that's awesome.
I will go out and explore from the ground up.
The best ingredients that go into some of our most beloved family recipes.
It's all about the food, the flavors, and finding the "Key Ingredient".
[country music] Going to Benton's legendary smokehouse in Madisonville, Tennessee is a pilgrimage for those of us who love traditional country ham.
Allen still makes hams the way his family made them for generations in these Appalachian Mountains.
- Well, we make tri cure hams and bacon.
We've been in business since 1973.
The business was actually started by gentleman named Albert Hicks.
I heard Albert Hicks had quit the country ham business.
I thought, you know, this is not rocket science.
My family had always butchered their own hogs and made their own hams and bacon and did a really good job with it.
And I talked him into leasing me that little building in his backyard.
And that's how I got started.
I've loved Sheri from the first time I ever met her at East Tennessee State University.
And the day I met her, I knew I was in the presence of somebody special.
It's like an old friend that I've always known.
- Today, I pay a visit to my dear friends Allan and Sharron, as they show us around the ham house.
- Oh my goodness, you finally made it.
- Lord Mercy, give me a hug.
It's been too long, it's been too long.
Howdy, howdy, howdy cuz.
How are you?
- I am excited to have you here.
- so good to see you.
Do you know how long I've wanted to come here?
I mean this is like going to Santa's workshop.
I don't know if I've been good enough, but I am tickle pink to finally be here.
- We're glad to have you in Madisonville, that's for sure.
- So finally, you gonna show me how this works.
I've been on the eating end of this deal for a long time.
Are you gonna show me how the magic is made?
- If you'd like to see a little bit of how hillbilly makes a living, come on back here.
I'm gonna show you.
- Friend let's do it, let's do it.
- [Allan] Come on back.
- [Sheri] How have y'all been?
[country music] - This is where the magic starts.
- Sheri, we're gonna let you rub the cure on this end.
- Really well, all right, maybe it's just as well.
So this is your cure that they say it's like your folks have been using for a long time, right?
So take up a handful, show me what I'm doing here.
Or is it literally just rubbing it on?
- You're gonna take it.
The first thing you're gonna do is rub it on there.
Rub it all over that ham.
All over it.
- [Sheri] Okay, all over.
- Yeah, like you're mad at it if you want to, you're not gonna hurt it.
- And what is this doing?
I mean, when people say something is a cure, what is this combination?
It's adding flavor, but if there's salt and sugar, what's it doing?
- You're driving the moisture out.
It's a dehydration process that you're doing Sheri, when you're making country ham Yeah, you're dehydrating.
Make sure you rub it all over.
You can't leave anything untouched.
They stay in here until they're about, we leave them about 55 days, generally.
- 55 Days, okay.
- The USDA requirement is two days per pound that you have to leave them.
We usually exceed that just a little bit.
We hang them shank down in stocking nets, and the reason that we hang them- - Stocking nets, literally?
- It's a plastic stock net.
- Okay, you can show me.
So these are the mesh bags you were talking about that helps hold the shape?
- The whole purpose is to shape that ham into a prettier shape, cure the aesthetics.
- And you've gotten hanging on these racks here and what's happening in this stage?
- It's drying out.
It's losing weight, losing moisture, sorta like curing tobacco on an old tobacco farm.
They hung it in the fall and let it dry before they market it.
I leave them in here for about three and a half months.
So a lot of country ham producers will only leave the 14 or 16 days, from there, they go into the heat room.
Sheri this is where the smoke magic happens.
- The famous smoke.
- If you don't like smoke, you sure wouldn't like my bacon.
- No, I do.
You know how you've heard blind taste tests?
I could do a blind sniffing test and know that it was something that came from y'all.
- Well, I'm gonna show you what, where the smoke comes from.
- [Sharron] Do it quick.
Oh, good land.
- And if you look down low, you can see the meat hanging in there.
- But that's, where the magic happens.
- Now I have many, many questions but that smell, that's that signature Benton's thing that nobody does that like y'all do.
- Well Sheri, I think I showed you this place from to back, Let's go back up front.
- Yeah, 'cause I need a ham to go at least one.
- That sounds good.
- All right.
- Let's go.
- Well y'all, this has been something I have learned how to make ham.
I've gotten to spend time with you and you're gonna show me how to make some stuff right?
We're gonna cook later.
- We are.
- All right, I'm gonna head out, see y'all in a little bit, okay.
- See you later.
- Back at home, Allan fries up some ham and stirs up his signature red eye gravy, while Sharon bakes her famous buttermilk biscuits.
And we get to watch it all come together into an unforgettable breakfast feast.
So I know y'all are good friends.
When not only did you give me a tour of the ham house, you have brought me home with you to show me your famous biscuits in your famous ham and red eye gravy.
I'm thinking we're gonna start with ham and then we're gonna make some biscuits.
Do y'all think that sounds good?
- All right.
I see here a bag of the most gorgeous white ham fat I've ever seen.
Tell me about this.
- That fat is, you saw the 24 month hams that we have out there Sheri.
- You want me, hold that.
Or You gonna hold it.
- [Alan] If you can hold it, I'll put the fat in.
- You got it.
- This is the secret to making good red eye gravy.
You can't make red eye gravy unless you have plenty of country ham fat.
Often old timers will come in and they're trying to make red eye gravy.
And they'll tell me they can't find a ham, that really makes good red eye gravy anymore.
Well this is the secret, you've got to have this ham fat.
You also have to have grease in your frying pan to fry good country ham.
- So you're basically just covering the bottom of the pan with this beautiful pieces of fat and I can smell, I mean it smells good.
And you've got it on a lowish heat and you're just gonna do what?
How will you know when this is right?
- We're just gonna render the fat, that's all.
- Render, got it.
- we can overcook this fat because we're not trying to eat it.
We're gonna overcook it, we want to get the grease.
Once I have hot grease, then I'll lay the country ham slices in there.
About 12 seconds on one side, 12 seconds on the other side.
And that hot grease is all- - But you know what we're starting with hot grease, You know it's gonna be good.
while you're tending that, we're gonna go over here and make some biscuits.
We'll just be right over here if you need us.
- That sounds like a plan.
- I can't believe I'm making biscuit for you with you.
Because you're, you're high on my list Sheri.
- Well that's, that's high praise from you.
But you're famous for these 'cause it's your two ingredient biscuits.
And if there's only two, that means they've gotta count.
- That's right.
- What are we gonna do first?
- So you can't just, I mean you might could use any kind of flour but I don't.
I really love this "Our Best" and it comes from kinda of your neck of the woods.
- But for those not blessed enough for this, they can use a self rising flour.
But it has to be self rising 'cause that's got our leavening in it.
Everything's good to go.
Then I'm gonna use Cruze buttermilk.
It's a local dairy in Knoxville, and I don't know how much I need.
It doesn't really matter because if I get too much milk, then I just put a little more flour.
- And you can do that with your two ingredient biscuits because you've not cut in fat that would do that.
- You know, you make biscuits so, you know, but it's beginning to follow my spoon, but it's too dry.
I've still got too much dry flour.
- [Sheri] But I love that fall of the spoon, that's a good tip.
- All right, you see how it's following my spoon?
I've probably stirred it way too much, more than I normally would just because... - All right, now I'm gonna move this out of our way and can I move the buttermilk?
Cause we don't need that anymore.
- I like to put my pastry cloth in my baggie.
It's already got flour on.
I'm gonna put a little more flour on there - This is just a cloth you use for baking, that has over time- - For biscuits - It's absorbed flour, And this is gonna be part of the secret of you rolling and padding, right?
- It is.
So I use this and I just... See this gray lil bowl?
You just hold onto it.
- Ooh I love that.
Yeah, I don't see a rolling pin.
So it must be a patter, like I am.
- It's gonna be a hand patted.
- That's what I do too' cause I want... - I'm just trying to keep it from being sticky, I guess.
- Right, until your hands don't stick in it anymore.
- Yeah, and see I'm about there.
- Yeah, and I love how you're not really using your fingers.
You're not kneading, we're not not developing gluten.
We're trying to do the opposite of that.
- We don't wanna knead it.
We just barely, I'm just kind of barely.
- And you don't grease your pan.
- I do not grease my pan and that tears people up.
I just get a little flower on, on my hand and you don't, you're not like pushing the dough.
I'm starting from the middle.
I put a little flower on my cutter and you don't twist.
I just go straight down.
- I love that.
- Now that one stuck a little, that's okay.
My mother has never watched me make this two ingredient biscuits.
- All right, one more dip and then into the oven while the oven's hot.
It's a hot oven?
- It is a hot oven.
- [Sheri] And so while we were doing that, look what you've accomplished here.
You've got what, quarter inch of fat in here or something?
- [Allan] I've got enough grease there to fry country ham and make red eye gravy.
- [Sheri] Okay, so these are just the slices like you were showing me at the ham shop.
This is your sliced ham.
- [Allan] This is the sliced ham.
- Okay, so you're just laying them in in a single layer.
- I am indeed.
- Okay and you can hear that noise, That's how you know you got your fat hot enough.
- I tell people you want the grease sizzling.
And most people dramatically overcook.
We don't wanna overcook this.
- Right, so you're just getting the least little bit of brown on the edge.
But we're also getting even a little more flavor in that delicious grease.
So this is just leftover coffee from this morning.
Just a good dark black roasted coffee.
And now there's your brown sugar.
- I'm just gonna do a pinch cause it will kind burn on the bottom of the frying pan.
- Ooh so its just a pinch kinda like a teaspoon or two.
- Look at it, it sizzles like you're making caramel.
No wonder that's good.
- Just enough in there to add some color now.
And I'm gonna turn this up Sheri.
I'm a little bit higher and I want to reduce this.
- So I'm watching what you're doing here.
You're continuing to stir slowly to get all of that brown part loosened up.
- And we're almost there Sherri.
It's got the color I'm looking for.
- I'm glad its not ready cause I got some- - Oh, look at your biscuit, they're out, that's perfect.
Oh, those are beautiful.
Oh, I love that its getting that good bubble.
- I think we're there Sheri.
- It looks delicious.
So you can see kind of that red.
- It really does have that red look with those little eyes in it.
- Stand back.
- It must be a special occasion if we're gonna serve it instead out of the frying pan.
I feel very honored here.
May I hand you one sir?
- Please, please.
- Oh, these are as light as feathers.
Oh my goodness, oh my goodness how light.
- See my oven is so old that you have to play when you take 'em out.
- You drizzle, I'm watching for my lesson here.
So you've got, I mean just a couple of teaspoons just to lightly moisten that biscuit.
All right, I'm going in.
You know what you do fork.
I'm gonna act like I was raised in a barn.
- I started doing mine without the fork.
- Oh my land.
It's salty but it's not punishingly salty.
You get that age from the ham, that meatiness, that intensity.
- [Alan] On there, so you can try it on a biscuit.
Want me to just laying on your biscuit?
- Just lay it on the biscuit.
I'll take it from there.
I'm gonna put a lid on it.
My dad said it needs a lid.
You know, I think you've got a future in this.
I think you might just make a go of this ham thing.
You know, when we were at Allan's, we learned that a whole country ham is a huge thing.
That every single bite is delicious.
This is my favorite thing to do with some of the trimmings and the end bits and so forth, 'cause this is the start of a wonderful recipe that I call ham salad.
So what I'm doing is I am coarsely chopping about a fist size hunk of my country ham.
And I'm gonna put it in a food processor.
Now the ham is salty and briny and smokey and it's strong.
So although that flavor is great on a biscuit, sometimes it's a little bit too much for the ham salad.
So what I like to do is to blend it with a little bit of so-called city ham.
And by that I mean a ham like you might put on a sandwich.
And I generally use about an equal portion of the country ham and the city ham.
So I'm gonna cut it into some cubes that will fit in my food processor.
Let me add that and then I'm gonna pulse this up until it is finally chopped.
All right, I'm gonna add a couple of other things to the food processor.
The first is a good splash of some good bourbon.
I love Hammond Bourbon.
This is gonna give us some liquid and then just some incredible flavor.
I'm also gonna add good old fashioned mayonnaise.
Not enough, again, just enough to turn this into a bit of a salad or a spread that's gonna hold its shape on the end of a spoon.
And then a wee bit of cayenne.
I like a good big pinch.
And then we're gonna put the lid back on and give this another pulse.
And we're gonna see it start transforming into a dip.
Now here's what I'm gonna do at this point, I'd like to finish this recipe in a bowl, so I can see what's going on.
So I'm gonna take my spatula and transfer this to a bowl and add the rest of my ingredients.
So what is left is some good grainy mustard.
Now this is a Creole style mustard or you can use a whole grain Dijon.
You don't want to use anything like you would put on a hotdog.
You want that wonderful depth of flavor from a good grainy mustard.
So let me fold that in.
And then last but not least, I'm going to put in some pickle relish.
Then I have some finely chopped scallions and a little bit of chopped flat leaf parsley.
And then you fold it together.
That's all there is to this.
And now I get to taste this.
My flavors are so good.
So this is a great little secret.
Not only can you make it ahead, you should make this ahead.
You wanna let it rest in the refrigerator at least overnight and up to five days ahead.
So I made more ham salad yesterday, which it rested overnight.
And I've put about half of it in this cute little serving bowl.
I let this sit out while I was gathering my other things because you wanna serve this at room temperature.
So let me tell you what I like to serve with it to make a snack plate.
I have some cute little pickles and then I'm gonna put a little bit more parsley on top of this for good looks.
I'm gonna put the mustard jar right on the plate.
So if people want a little more mustard, they can serve it right up.
And last but not least, I'm gonna put out some great crackers.
And look, we have a whole party on a plate.
Let me show how it comes together.
So I'm gonna put a little of my ham salad on there, maybe a little dab of mustard.
And let's see how it goes.
[crunching] I have the crunch of a good cracker.
I have the smokiness of the ham.
A little whisper of bourbon that comes up through there, the punch of the mustard.
This is an amazing simple recipe that tastes like it was really a lot of trouble and it's gonna keep for days.
So you can serve your guests, you can serve yourself.
This is in some ways it's like just a nice version of an old farmstead lunch.
Now here's a little thing.
Remember that bourbon I put in there?
I think a good bourbon cocktail is the perfect thing to serve with this, you have an entire party thanks to the trimmings of a good old country ham.
[upbeat music] What I love about this next recipe is it is a chance to use another style of good country ham.
I'm going to wrap them around peaches.
Yes, good, fresh fragrant aromatic peaches.
[upbeat music] Some country hams come cut in these paper thin slices that might remind you of Prosciutto or Iberico.
Another of the world's great hams of which country, ham certainly is one.
What I'm gonna do is I'm gonna cut these slices in half lengthwise to make thin little strips.
So I'm just gonna cut this peach in half.
I'm going to take it apart, pop out the pit, and then I'm gonna cut it into wedges.
Now you'll notice that the peeling on these peaches is not coming loose.
And that's the thing about a peach.
If you start cutting and it comes loose, go ahead and peel it, lean into that.
But if it's staying on there, it's gonna be great in the salad.
And then look at this little trick.
I'm gonna take a piece of ham and I'm going to wrap each peach slice in one of these, like giving it a little belt.
So this ham is fully cooked and ready to eat.
So what we're gonna do is just warm it up in a skillet.
And sometimes if you're doing really fatty ham, you don't need any oil.
But sometimes I put just a couple of drops, just to gloss up the bottom of the pan.
You're not frying this ham, you're just warming these up.
And so you put 'em in the pan.
Hear that little bit of noise?
That's how you know that your pan is hot enough.
And these are gonna cook about two minutes per side and they can just hang out over here while I move on to the next stage, which is some wonderful ricotta cheese, good creamy ricotta.
Now this is fresh ricotta.
Maybe not the kind you would use in lasagna.
This is a fresh product.
It's creamy and delicious, but there is a little bit of a granular texture to it.
So sometimes I will put in just a splash of cream and stir it around until it almost has the consistency of whipped cream.
And then I'm going to put in the zest of a gorgeous lemon to just zest off there a little bit.
And then sit that lemon aside cuz it's gonna show up later, just a pinch of salt.
And stir that around.
And that part is ready.
So that took about a minute.
Let me check these peaches 'cause I bet the first ones are ready to flip over.
So I'm just taking my little tongs here and just flipping these over.
Now while the second side is cooking, I'm gonna finish up my salad components.
And what I have here is some gorgeous arugula and mint.
I love adding mint or another good herb to my salad greens.
It adds aroma, color, interest and peaches and mint and mint and that ham are all matches made in heaven.
So remember how I said that we were gonna use that lemon later?
So I'm gonna cut it in half and I'm gonna squeeze this fresh lemon juice over these greens.
We're sort of making vinaigrette a step at a time instead of in a bowl.
So there's one half of my lemon and then the other half of this pretty lemon in here.
A good drizzle of my oil.
Now if you're wondering how much oil to add, the idea is to make sure every little leaf is glossy, but you don't want any standing liquid in the bottom.
So we're gonna put a little bit of pepper and salt, toss this around and we're good to go.
So what I'm gonna do is, I'm gonna take a good golden floral honey and drizzle that over.
And that is liquefying that honey and caramelizing it a little bit, just from the ham juices and the honey and a little more good cracked pepper.
And you know it's already time to assemble this salad.
I love using a big, pretty simple platter for this.
I'm gonna take straight to the table.
This is called a composed salad.
And all that means is we're gonna compose the pieces on the plate rather than tossing them together in a bowl.
So you might think that the ricotta goes on top, you want it on the bottom because it's gonna lay literally the foundation for the good stuff to come.
And then look what we're doing here.
We're taking our mint and our arugula with that gorgeous, bright, citrusy, acidic lemon.
And we're just gonna arrange that on top of the ricotta.
And now comes our peaches, the star of this show.
So we're gonna put our beautifully salty, delicious...
I'm so excited about this.
Put this and then take that honey and those ham drippings, all of that delicious pan juice over the top.
And this is the last little flourish of flavor and crunch.
These are candy pecans.
You can make them, you can buy them.
It is amazing.
And if you really like to play with honey like I do, maybe one more gorgeous, amazing, delicious drizzle.
And by golly, we are done.
Now, yes, there's a lot going on, but let me promise the star of all of this is that air cured country ham.
It's not smoked, but it's delicious and it is gonna be a salad that you and your friends are gonna talk about for weeks to come.
It's a keeper.
[upbeat music] All right, friends, let's talk country ham.
A whole country ham is a big deal, literally.
There's parts to it.
And the one that I brought back from the Benton's is separated into those parts and every bit has a great use.
We're not gonna waste a bit.
This is what is called a whole de-boned country ham.
Yes, the bone has come out.
I like to put that down in a big pot of field peas or beans or something like that and cook 'em up to get every bit of flavor out.
Now here's another part of this ham.
This was the top, the fat cap that went over it all.
This too can be cut into little strips or pieces just a little bit and put in, say a pot of vegetable soup or a pot of fresh green beans.
A little bit goes a long way and again, when you have what you want, stick the rest in a nice zippered freezer bag, stick it in the fridge.
This may last you a whole year, if not more.
Country ham, it's an investment, it's delicious.
We're gonna enjoy it down to the last spec.
[upbeat music] With its salty and smokey taste.
Country hem can be the surprising and sophisticated star of your next dish.
We're going up and down these hallways of ham and stuff like that.
And now make sure I've got this right.
The ones that you age for up to two years or more, you leave in the sacks and it's a slightly different kind of pork, right?
- It is a slightly different kind of pork.
- Dude, you can actually smell the stages of this.
This is starting to get that meaty concentrated aroma and so forth.
Okay, it's not the only dumb question I've asked, but it may be the dumbest story, - Not dumb question.
So your beautiful painted black boards, is that 'cause you want a tight, neat looking ham house.
- It takes a long time to get that look right there.
- [Sharron] It does.
- [Sheri] Does it?
- You put that wood into the smokehouse and it's going to turn it as black as that right there.
- [Sharron] It's the whole rack of hams- - That's just time and smoke.
You know how people sell bourbon barrels to other people for reuse?
You gotta find you a secondary market for the ham aged wood and so forth.
[upbeat music] ♪ For all the recipes from the show, Visit our website.
It's where you'll find the "Key Ingredient" for a perfect time in the kitchen.