Country ham is an important family memory for me. It was always part of any celebration at my grandparents’ home in middle Tennessee and the leftovers of a big ham were an ongoing treat. Mostly though, we enjoyed it just as slices off the whole ham, sometimes tucked into beaten biscuits or as leftovers on simple sandwiches or mixed with sweet butter to spread on crackers. The resurging interest in Southern ingredients and cooking over the last decade has brought about a real revival of country ham as a creative ingredient, used in all kinds of interesting ways. And its popularity has made it more available – you no longer have to drive out to a smokehouse in the country or find a little country market. You can even order some of the best there is online. So I’ve taken to expanding my own country ham repertoire, finding creative ways to include it in all sorts of dishes. This chicken dish is simple to prepare, but has a real touch of elegance. It seems more complicated on the plate than it is to actually make. I give it a Southern twist, using thin sliced country ham instead of a more traditional prosciutto to wrap breasts stuffed with more of the salty, porky goodness and some fresh green onions, then draped it in a creamy, tangy Southern gravy.
My favorite ham for this is the Surryano ham made by Edwards Country Ham in Virginia. Unfortunately, Edwards is recovering from a fire that destroyed their smokehouse, so the thin-sliced high can be a bit hard to come by at the moment. Luckily my local gourmet grocery has country ham at the deli counter that they will slice to order. If you really can’t find country ham, you can use prosciutto, or even thinly sliced bacon.
- 2 green onions, white and light green parts
- 4 ounces thin sliced country ham, at least 6 slices (see note)
- 1 Tablespoon parsley leaves
- 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
- ¼ teaspoon hot sauce
- salt and pepper to taste
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 4 Tablespoons (½ stick) butter
- 6 green onion, white, light green and some bright green parts
- 3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 ¼ cups chicken stock
- ¾ cups heavy cream
- salt and pepper to taste
- Chop the green onions into chunks and drop in the bowl of a small food processor. Pulse a few times to break up. Add the parsley and pulse a few times. Add 2 slices (about 1 ounce) of the country ham and pulse to chop. Add the cream cheese, hot sauce a pinch of salt and a few generous grinds of pepper and blend until smooth.
- Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Place the each chicken breast on a cutting board and pat dry with paper towels. Hold the breast down with the palm of your hand and use a sharp knife to cut a slit horizontally into the thick part of the breast, about ¾ of the way through. Open each breast like a book, then divide the cream cheese filling between the breasts, spreading it over the open pocket. Close the top of the chicken breast, making sure you enclose all the filling. Tuck it into the pocket with your fingers if needed. Fold any thin ends on the chicken underneath the breast to ensure even cooking. Wrap each chicken breast in the remaining slices of country ham, covering the whole breast and tucking the ham under the chicken. Transfer the breasts to the prepared pan and bake until cooked through to an internal temperature from 165°, about 20 minutes.
- Melt the butter in a large sauce pan over medium heat. Finely dice four green onions, and add them to the butter in the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and translucent. Sprinkle over the flour and stir until smooth and blended with the butter. Cook until pale colored and smooth, then whisk in the chicken broth. Bring to a bubble, stirring, until the sauce is thickened and smooth. Finely dice the remaining two green onions, including some darker green parts. Whisk in the cream, the green onions and a generous grinds of black pepper and continue stirring and cooking until thickened to a pourable gravy. Taste and season with salt and more pepper as needed. Be liberal with the black pepper, it adds a lot of depth to the gravy.
- When the chicken is cooked through, serve it with the warm gravy.