Archive for January, 2010

Let There Be Ham

25 January 10

In every civilized society that is not Middle-Eastern there are many and varied recipes for the noble pig. Basically, pig is quite safe and not at all unclean if there are several requisites met.

  1. You must raise the pig in relatively clean conditions
  2. You must not allow the pigs to eat offal and other contaminated food
  3. You must not allow the pigs to eat rats and other vermin (they are as good or better than cats)
  4. You must have cool weather (preferably cold) for slaughter
  5. You must have good refrigeration for preservation
  6. You must be very clean in the preparation of pork
  7. You must cook pork done – above 137°F and hold for killing any little vermin, around 150°F for flavor

Now if you follow all of the above guidelines pork is a wonderful and tasty food. If you do not, it may have trichinosis – a form of roundworm. You can also get this infection from just about any form of game that is undercooked. This is one of the reasons that – Edgar Rice Burroughs to the contrary – most primitive and rural people eat their meat cooked to shoe leather. That is not necessary if you know where the meat comes from and can trust your butcher. I don’t know why the Middle-Easterners got so flakey about pig as opposed to many other game animals – but they did – and are still really weird about it.

Actually – if you give them a chance to be clean – they will be. Cleaner than sheep or goats in many ways – as anyone who has raised farm animals should know.

This time around we will talk about ham. Ham is the thigh or rump of the pig. Most hams have been cured for most of recorded history.

My mother – and probably yours too – had ham when the special occasions seemed appropriate. Usually diamonds were cut into the upper fat side – spaced about 1” apart – and studded with cloves inserted into the center of the diamonds. Then some sort of dark brown sugar was pressed firmly onto the flesh about ¼” thick all over the upper side. Usually it was roasted at around 325°F to 350°F for around 20 minutes a pound, lightly covered with an aluminum foil tent. The foil tent was then removed and roasting continued until the glaze was nicely browned. You then let the roast rest for about 15 minutes or so until cutting into slices and serving. Wonderful.

There are tons of glazes which can be applied to your ham of whatever form. There are canned hams – some of which are pretty decent – and which will keep for a loooong time. Just be sure whether you have shelf ham or refrigerated ham, they are both canned. There is also the ubiquitous Spam. Some like it – herself does, the Koreans LOVE it. Some aren’t particularly fond of it in large amounts, but like it in small doses – I guess I fall in that group. Then there are those who just cannot stand it – or say they can’t – which amounts to the same thing.

Pre-cooked hams (most of what you get at the store) mostly only need about 15 minutes per pound. Then there’s the whole city ham vs. country ham business. Really – it isn’t all that complex. The hams called city cured are mostly soaked in a brine solution and then smoked or boiled and are probably what most are used to. The country hams have been salt-cured and then slow smoked and cured for a much longer period of time. They are drier and may need some soaking/rinsing so as not to be too salty. What we usually will not see are raw hams, sometimes called fresh hams – you don’t want this unless you intend to cure your own and know what you are doing.

A pre-cooked ham (most from the grocery store) only needs to get to around 150°F to develop full flavor. If you’ve got a canned ham or Spam, follow the manufacturer’s directions – probably around 15 minutes a pound.

Generally, if you use a glaze, you don’t want the oven much more than 350°F because you will get the glaze so hot that it liquefies and just slides off the slope of the ham. Not very satisfactory. If things are getting too much for your glaze either cut down the heat or tent with foil or both. You generally want a thick and sticky glaze so that it will stay in place long enough to crystallize and sweeten the meat.

Just about anything that tastes good with pork can be used. Cloves and cinnamon, brown sugar and honey, just about anything that goes with standard pork does well with hams. The basic Mama mix that I mentioned earlier – stud with cloves and pack with brown sugar works nicely.

A standard mustard and honey looks like this:

3 Tbs Dijon mustard
1 Cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup honey

A kind of Latinish sort of glaze is:

1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup dark rum
1/2 cup orange juice
1 Tbs grated orange rind
1 Tbs ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves

You can add cinnamon to just about any pork that you like. Just use a small amount and it will enhance the pork nicely. For any of the dry glazes you will probably want to do the cut diamonds into the meat and/or stud with cloves to give something for the glaze to hold onto. For the wet glazes soak the meat in a light application for an hour or so before cooking, and dribble or brush on more layers every 15 minute or so. For real hams the tenting with foil is probably in order. For canned ham or Spam (or small hams) you may need to switch over to the broiler for a few minutes at the end of cooking to crust up the glaze. Do let the meat rest for a few minutes to re-absorb the juices before cutting. If any liquid glaze is left over you can just dribble it over the slices as you serve.

{{HERSELF SEZ}} Spam is a thing of joy. Reminds me of my childhood and going to camp. We’d go on hikes and carry a little sack lunch of 1 PBJ and 1 Spam sandwich. I’d trade my PBJ for another Spam sandwich! I don’t know why, but at that time the Spam just appealed more. Recently, Himself handily prepared a canned ham using the “Latinish” sort of glaze. It was delicious. I restrained myself from second helpings so we could have it for lunch the next day! Yumm!

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