What Is Red-Eye Gravy And How Do You Make It?

Like much of America, southern cooking and cuisine is as varied and historical as they come. Due South notes that southern cooking is a blend of techniques and ingredients that can be traced back to the local indigenous tribes of the Southern U.S., the European settlers who inhabited the area, and, most notably, the influence of the West African peoples who were brought over because of the slave trade. Because of this merging of cultures, the Southern U.S. was gifted with things like cornbread, hoecakes, okra, stews like gumbo, and pork (which was brought over by the Europeans). 

A NPR report cites how Southern cooking would not be what it is today without the groundwork that was laid by those who cooked in the early days of the colonies, namely the West African slaves. Today, many get to enjoy dishes like shrimp and grits, whole hog barbecue, gumbo, and red-eye gravy (sometimes called red ham gravy, poor man's gravy, or bottom sop). But, what exactly is in this type of gravy?

Red-eye gravy can go on basically anything

Only two ingredients are needed to make red-eye gravy — country ham and hot coffee. According to the publication, red-eye gravy can be eaten with or poured on top of anything, ranging from pan-fried country ham, fluffy biscuits, cornbread, grits, or potatoes (or maybe all of the above if you're feeling carby). Typically though, the red-eye gravy will be served with pan-fried country ham as the drippings from the ham are part of the ingredients needed to make it. It's A Southern Thing notes that red-eye gravy is something that is seldomly ever served or made outside of Southern kitchens and cuisine. 

The publication states that there are several theories as to how the gravy got its name. One notes, how when in a bowl, the gravy looks like it has a "red eye" looking back at you (a similar effect is said to take place when it is poured on the ham). What's Cooking America notes that this particular trait could be due to the fact that coffee is added to the gravy. Like many recipes across the globe, you'll find that eating red-eye gravy across the South will render you with a variety of different recipes, Atlas Obscura asserts. In some places, you'll find chicory used instead of coffee or that the country ham was swapped with roast beef.