If you have never tried traditionally cured country ham from the southeastern United States, you are missing out. The hams are packed in a curing mix, sometimes straight salt, sometimes a mixture of salt, sugar, and cure, for a period of three to six weeks. Some smoke the ham afterward, others don’t. We often make our own, but several great brands are available in the supermarket or online. Try Broadbent, Edward's or Father's for excellent ham.
The ham is then rinsed and hung to dry for anywhere from six months to two years. The result? A porky, salty, dense cured meat with just a bit of sharp, gaminess. It can be sliced and fried, soaked to moisten, then baked, or even boiled. The ham’s sharp saltiness is perfect as a seasoning in other dishes as well.
For this one, we paired thin strips of country ham with rabbit slow braised in beer with sliced mushrooms. The creamy dish is perfect when served alone or spooned over pasta.
2 rabbits, quartered
1 large slice of country ham, cut into thin strips
1.5 pounds of mushrooms, sliced
2 lager-style beers
Flour for dredging rabbit plus 1 tablespoon
2 yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon Realtree Cajun seasoning
Salt and pepper
Cover the bottom of a heavy cast iron pot with vegetable oil. Turn heat to medium-high. Season the rabbit with Realtree Cajun seasoning. Season flour with salt and pepper and dredge rabbit pieces.
Brown the rabbit in the oil, a batch at a time, until the surface is golden brown and crisp. Don’t worry about cooking it through, just brown the surface, about 3-4 minutes per side. Once all the rabbit is browned, set it aside. Add a tablespoon of seasoned flour to the remaining oil and stir until the roux is golden brown, about 5-10 minutes. Add the country ham strips and onion. Cook until the onion is soft and translucent.
Add the mushrooms to the pan and continue to cook for 5 more minutes. Pour in both beers and return the rabbit to the pot. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Braise the rabbit for two hours until it is about to fall off the bone.
To serve, place the rabbit on a plate or bed of pasta, spoon over the mushroom and country ham gravy from the pot.
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