It takes guts to write a cookbook exclusively about pork -- and southern-inspired pork at that -- but James Villas's latest book, Pig: King of the Southern Table does just that and pulls it off expertly. The recipes here run the gamut from indispensible southern standards like fried country ham steaks with red-eye gravy, and a wonderful collection of rib recipes, to old takes on everyone’s new favorite pig part: Bacon!
The recipes are pretty straightforward, which is not surprising, given that most have their roots in the rustic cooking of the southern countryside. What sets them apart though is that they are also well laid out, easy to understand, and prefaced by lovely trivia and tidbits, my favorite being: “Why Mississippians have a knack with pigs’ ears, I don’t know -- but some of the best I’ve eaten have been around Jackson and Greenville, and nobody produced crustier ears than my famous friend and neighbor, Craig Claiborne!”

Ok, now how can you not want this book after a line like that? It also has some great basic information on pig parts, southern hams, and barbeque in the introduction. I found a lot to like here and I hope you do, too. If you like a little bit of pork now and then, this is simply a great resource to add to your collection. And if you love southern foods, it should be required reading!

About James Villas

More than 30 years ago, James Villas decided to devote his full attention to his palate and belly, and accepted the offer to be Food and Wine Editor of Town & Country, where he remained for 27 years in that capacity.  In addition to hundreds of feature articles for that magazine, he’s written extensively for Esquire, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Bon Appétit, Life, The New York Times, and numerous other magazines and newspapers, as well as published 12 cookbooks (including The Bacon Cookbook), three literary books on gastronomy, a memoir, and a novel.
I’ve chosen two classic recipes for to include below: one uses half a ham and is a great preparation for a buffet or party, while the other is a soulfully decadent side dish that might end up being the addictive star of any event!

Mississippi Spice Stuffed Baked Ham

Spiced meat dishes abound in the Deep South, and none is more distinctive than the large spice-stuffed hams served warm or cold on buffet tables for all sorts of informal events.

Cooks might well add about half a cup of golden raisins or chopped pecans to this stuffing, but however you modify the mixture, just be sure to reserve enough to press over the outside of the ham to form a slight crust during the final half hour of baking. Naturally, you can always have a butcher bone the ham for you, but if you’ve never boned a butt or shank, all you need is a good boning knife and a bit of patience. (Boning really involves little more than carefully following the bone with the knife as you lift off the meat.)

Click here to download a PDF of the full recipe.  Makes at least 12 servings

One 10- to 12-pound smoked ham butt
2 cups water
1 cup cider vinegar
3 cups crumbled cornbread
3 cups fresh bread crumbs
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup molasses
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 large eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons butter, melted

1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.

2. Position the ham on a rack in a large baking pan, add the water and vinegar, cover, and bake for 1½ hours, basting several times.

3. Meanwhile, combine all the remaining ingredients in a large bowl, mix till thoroughly blended, and set the stuffing aside.

4. Transfer the ham to a work surface, retaining the liquid in the pan. Remove and discard the skin and all but about ½ inch of the fat on the ham.
Using a sharp boning knife, cut the meat from the bone in one piece, following the bone carefully with the knife. Fill the cavity of the ham with as much stuffing as necessary, re-form the ham as neatly as possible, skewer the openings shut, and tie the ham securely with butcher’s twine.

5. Reposition the ham in the pan fat side up, cover, and bake for 1 hour longer. Remove the ham from the oven again, press as much of the remaining stuffing as possible over the top with your fingers, return the ham to the oven, and bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes longer.

6. To serve, transfer the ham to a serving platter, remove the skewers and twine, and let stand for about 15 minutes before carving into thin slices and serving with a little of the stuffing.

Wine Pairing: With all the spices used in this dish it might seem that this is a tough dish to pair with wine, and in a way, it may be -- but this is a classic case where finding a complementary wine should work wonders. I’d look for a nice Grenache-based blend, with a fair amount of oak that will add some nice spice here so the wine can keep up with the dish. Try a GSM blend from Australia, or one of California’s great Rhone rangers.

Old Dominion Scalloped Potatoes with Country Ham

Scalloped potatoes with lots of butter and cheese have been a staple in Southern homes for centuries, but only in Virginia have I encountered the dish made with the state's incomparable country-cured ham -- simply called "Virginia ham" in the Old Dominion. Do remember that you need to use dry russet potatoes for any gratin, and if the potatoes seem to be drying out after 35 or 40 minutes, just add a little whole milk, basting them slightly to produce a golden crust.

Click here to download a PDF of the full recipe. Makes 6 servings

4 medium russet potatoes (about 2 pounds), peeled and sliced 1/8 inch thick
1 cup finely diced cooked country ham
1/2 cup chopped fresh chives
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
1 cup half-and-half

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. Butter a 1 1/2 to 2-quart gratin or baking dish and arrange alternate layers of overlapping potato slices and ham, sprinkling a few chives over each layer and seasoning with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle 1/4 cup of the cheese over the top, dot with the butter, pour the half-and-half over the top, and bake till the potatoes are tender, about 45 minutes, basting from time to time with the liquid. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top and bake till golden brown, about 10 minutes longer.

3. Serve piping hot directly from the dish.

Wine Pairing: This creamy, smokey side dish really is ideal for a nice Syrah -- for my palate, one from France would be ideal, but as long as the oak treatment isn’t too intense, and the wine has enough acidity to parry the richness of this dish, your favorite Syrah should work just fine. Another option here is to go with a big, structured white from Alsace. I can see this dish working exceptionally well with either a Riesling or luscious Pinot Gris.

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