Seeking Eternity’s end through Kentucky country ham salad

Country ham salad sandwich

Gourmandistan recently tackled its first entire Kentucky country ham in ages and ages. We were stunned, after serving a Thanksgiving party of eight, to find that most of it still remained. That’s when we rediscovered a saying attributed to Dorothy Parker: “Eternity is two people and a ham.” One solution? Ham salad.

Country ham salad

Country ham is a signature Kentucky product which (like tobacco, bourbon and coal) may be a reason the people of our Commonwealth are so vibrant and robust. It’s salty, funky and smoky, and when cooked correctly, it’s one of the best-tasting meats you can stuff in your face. But, cook it incorrectly or buy an inferior product and you might as well try to eat a salt-stuffed football.

Because Michelle’s family lives just up the road from Princeton, Kentucky, we were lucky enough to obtain a Colonel Bill Newsom’s Aged Country Ham, an old-fashioned open-barn-aged item now quite popular with gourmet chefs, food magazine editors and symposia organizers. Aged over two years, the hams develop a hard, moldy exterior and some snowy-white interior “blooms” of salt and protein. Trust us, they’re delicious.

We prepared ours according to the suggestions included in a brochure tucked in with the ham. We soaked it for an entire day (Steve was amazed at how much salt came off in the first sink of water), then simmered it for six hours, let it cool, stripped the exterior skin and fat and glazed it with a bit of mustard, cider vinegar and brown sugar, then finished in a hot oven before thinly slicing and serving.

It was delicious—but damn if a little didn’t go a long way. Our “small” 13-pounder seemed (even after ham and biscuits for breakfast the next morning) to be only barely dented by our holiday party. So we started to consider ways to whittle down the remainder. Our first course was Kentucky country ham salad, a seemingly simple dish many Kentuckians still manage to screw up.

Country ham salad sandwich

Steve made this lovely bread. But, otherwise, use the cheapest, poofiest white bread you can find.

We disdain the salty, paste-like concoctions some people create with cream cheese. And this horror offered by Emeril Lagasse on the Food Network should not even be mentioned. (If your country ham needs “Emeril’s Essence,” you need a better country ham.) We have to admit that our idea of an excellent country ham salad approaches the texture of this terrifying American corporate canned classic, but with a lot more oomph. We add onion, shallot, mustard and parsley, plus enough mayonnaise (preferably Duke’s) to make the mixture pretty moist. Enjoy it on white bread with some (not too salty) chips and plenty of cold beer (believe us, even after soaking out much salt, the ham will make you thirsty).

Several pounds of ham still remain in our freezer. We have plans to use the leftovers to replenish our XO sauce supply, make more ham biscuits and season some batches of bean soup. But we’re pretty sure Gourmandistan will see this salad again before we’re through with our Newsom’s ham.


  • Servings: enough for at least 4 sandwiches
  • Print

  • 1/2 lb. country ham
  • 2 TB finely minced shallot or onion
  • 1 TB finely minced parsley
  • 2 spears candied dill pickles, minced (or about 3 TB sweet pickle relish)
  • 2 tsp. grainy mustard
  • Black pepper
  • 1/2 c. (or more) mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp. liquid from pickle jar

Clean fat and tendon from ham and cut into 1-2″ chunks. Place in food processor and process with sharp blade until finely ground.

Place ground ham in a bowl and add remaining ingredients. Stir to mix. Add more mayonnaise if needed.

Serve on crackers or as sandwiches on soft white bread. No lettuce, please. This is not the recipe to use if you’re trying to be healthy.


  1. I believe I first read about Kentucky ham in one of Calvin Trillin’s books… Yours would not be safe with me – I’d make very short work of it. Interestingly I had a conversation this evening with a friend who told me she could never buy a whole ham in case she ate it all in one sitting! I’m trying to decide if I should cook a ham in mulled wine for Christmas – it’s very good, but very hard to resist 😉

  2. I’ve had ham salad before, but any food that comes with the recommendation to serve it with beer is something I know I’ll like! Also what is the kitty’s name? Looks like that ham is being thoroughly inspected. =)

  3. This is new to me, I’ve never seen ham salad before let alone tasted it, but it sounds delicious with the mustard and pickle added. Sadly a whole leg of ham is a daunting amount of meat for just two of us….

  4. Obviously I’ve never had or even heard of country ham, but it sounds fabulous. My dad always makes the exact same turkey and stuffing for Thanksgiving (and it is great). I need to make a list of stuff I have to taste when I come to the US next. The salad also sounds good, I wonder what I should use to get something similar using local ingredients… maybe jambon fumé, or jarret.

    • I’m not familiar with any European analog. Maybe a really, really old Spanish ham? But that would be way too expensive (plus heresy) to slather with mayonnaise! People make ham salad with plain old hams, but I have to say I don’t care much for it. It’s the salt bomb that makes it so good.

  5. What a good looking, and apparently wonderful tasting, ham…..and the cat seems to agree with me. I can’t imagine buying a ham for us as I would have to eat it single handedly as Jenny eschews meat. It makes more sense to have a Bayonne ham hanging from a beam to be sliced at will over a long period:)

    • Now, there’s a nice thought: a Bayonne ham hanging from a beam. I hope Steve doesn’t see your comment though. He’s likely to buy another ham and hang it from the chandelier. 😉

  6. I’d never be against finding a little arriving at my doorstep, if you’re ever at your wits end. 🙂 Is it not something you can slice thinly and eat like a proscuitto or serrano ham? I’ve begun dreaming about ham biscuits, by the way…

    • You can do so and, in fact, many of the NY chefs (Chang, Flay, etc.) who buy Newsom’s hams do precisely that. I saw on Newsom’s website that they are now making a more prosciutto-like ham as well, but I don’t think I’ve had that. If you do ever decide to order a KY ham, do buy Newsom’s. They’re the last people who actually cure them in barns. The safety Nazis have declared that unsanitary or dangerous or something, but Newsom’s is grandfathered.

      • Blasted safety nazis!!! My pal Brian who travels to Paris regularly smuggles in unpasteurized cheeses which are so many thousands of times better than what we get here. At least we’re able to score raw milk and dairy produced here in California.

  7. I’m a longs at from Kentucky Ham, but I can assure you I’m already dreaming of what to do with my (eventual) Christmas leftovers. Love the light and delicate ham salad, I need some fluffy white bread and a bowl of this stat!

  8. Wow! Hey, if you want to offload, say, 5 pounds, we’d be more than willing to take it off your hands. The ham salad sounds delicious. One made with great ham is a rare and precious thing. Ken

  9. I love ham salad but haven’t eaten it in ages – I won’t do much “real” cooking while it is so hot out so I think I’ll make this with ham that I have in the freezer. Thanks for sharing your recipe.

  10. pinkdogwood1962

    I had to wade through a lot of imposter “country ham salad” recipes on the internet before I found your fine one. It results in a delicious spread that is precisely what country ham salad should taste like! Thank you for sharing it with all of us.

    • Excellent! When I was a kid, in my small Western KY town, we always bought at a local store that baked excellent country hams and sold the salad by the pint (or quart or gallon…). That’s what we were trying to replicate.

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: