Ham Steak. Diner classic goes uptown.

My mother-in-law is a big Elvis fan and some years ago, she bought an Elvis cookbook. With all the stuff the king was allegedly fond of. Like Banana cream pudding, fried peanut butter sandwiches and German bratwurst. The book also says the was a fan of diner food and listed a recipe for ham steak with red eye gravy. When we first cooked it, it tasted horrible. Coffee too thin, too bitter, too salty. Terrible.

After some time, I came across another recipe for red eye gravy, this time with the addition of red currant jelly. Which absolutely made sense to me as I always drink my coffee very sweet (undrinkable, my husband would say). And out of nowhere came the inspiration to use Crème de Cassis (French black currant liqueur) and grenadine syrup instead.

Though nobody believes this is a good combination, all the guests that I made it for were totally impressed. Since then, this has become our meal for special occasions.

for 4-6 people

4-6 large potatoes
vegetable oil, lard or duck fat for frying

4-6 cooked ham slices, 1 cm thick
1 cup / 250 ml strong coffee
1/2 cup / 125 ml Crème de Cassis (French black currant liqueur)
1/2 cup / 125 ml grenadine syrup
tiny pinch of salt
cranberry sauce for serving

First, peel and cut the potatoes into 1 cm / playing dice sized cubes. Heat up your largest pan with some vegetable oil or lard and put the potato cubes into the pan, if possible in one layer. Generously salt, because potatoes need lots of salt. Very slowly fry them and turning them often until they are golden brown and delicious on all sides.

In France, I learned and tasted that the best fried potatoes are made in duck or goose fat. Fried on very low heat for over an hour. The potatoes will get a very delicate golden crust and the center is melting in your mouth. Absolutely delicious.

Cut away all the fat on the ham slices, cut the fat into little pieces and gently fry to render the fat. Fish out all the bits (don’t throw them away!) and fry the ham slices in the ham fat. Again until they are golden brown and delicious. Keep the fried slices warm and fry the next batch.

Oh, and please don’t use a non-stick pan for frying the ham – it’s impossible to build a pan sauce in a non-stick pan.

Next stop: coffee. I only have this espresso can, so I made 3/4 cup of espresso and thinned it with 1/4 cup water. As with almost everything in cooking: If you don’t like to drink it, don’t cook with it.

See the brown bits on the bottom of the pan? That’s the good stuff. Get out the last batch of ham slices and keep them warm with the rest. Now, pour in the coffee and cook and scrape the bottom until you have loosened all the bits.

Remember the little bits I told you not to throw away? Put them into the hot coffee and let them cook out for a bit. Why? Because they have plenty of the good brown stuff on them that will give your sauce even more taste. Add the currant liqueur and the grenadine syrup. Add a tiny pinch of salt – not too much because coffee with salt tastes really funky. Fish out the bacon bits with a slotted spoon.

If the sauce seems to thin, you can also thicken it with a slurry made of 1 tablespoon corn starch and some tablespoons of water. Let that cook for a minute.

Serve the ham with sauce and fried potatoes alongside with a good helping of cranberry sauce. Relax and enjoy!

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