Okay, so you have a country cured ham. Unless you’ve been raised with this delicacy prepared at home, you might be wondering, Now what?
The process for preparing the ham, in its various forms, is involved and, frankly, time consuming. With such an investment in time, you might hope that the results are mouth watering and that folks will be singing praises. You will not be disappointed. That being said, be sure there are a lot of folks around so that the praises will come in a chorus, not a solo or duet. These hams will feed the masses, and do so for days. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year, Easter, 4th of July, and other large gatherings are good occasions.
If you don’t have a gathering planned for a while, no problem. The hams will keep, unrefrigerated, for extended periods of time. The Rooster saw a ham this summer in Columbia, TN; it had been hanging for 70 years. Can’t say for sure that it was still good, but it certainly didn’t look bad. You don’t have to go to this extreme. A few months, or even a year or more is fine to store the ham until you are ready for the feast. Hang the ham in a cool(ish) place so that it gets good air circulation. Keep it out of direct sunlight. Pass by now and then to give the ham a squeeze. Inhale the fragrance; let it take you back to feasts of yesterday or project you forward to the feast to come. When you are ready … begin …
Remove the ham from its bag and give it good going over. Scrub the ham with a stiff bristle brush and a little vinegar to remove any mold and salt that may have been missed when the ham started its aging process. You will need to find a butcher to cut the ham into the various parts
Ham back from the butcher, ready to start cooking
required. Unless you have a bandsaw available (with a clean blade) don’t try this at home. One time, the Rooster figured it can’t be so hard … he did the butchering job with a hacksaw, yes, the blade was new … and no, the job didn’t come out so well. But, I digress. Take the ham to a butcher; have the hock removed, the center section cut into 1/4″ slices (about two inches worth), and the remainder left in one piece for baking.
Freeze the hock for later unless you plan to use it right away. Split pea soup is greatly improved with the hock. Will come back to this at a later time.
Put the slices in the refrigerator. Since you are having a crowd, you’ll want to fry these for breakfast on one or more mornings. Serve with eggs, biscuits, grits, and red eye gravy.
Now for the baking ham. Weigh the baking portion or have your butcher do it for you. The country ham is dry cured with salt. The first step in preparing the ham is to reduce the saltiness. Lot’s of different ways have been tried such as
- soak for three days, changing the water every 12 hours, last soak is in beer; discard water and (gasp) the beer,
- soak over night
(the Rooster did this in the bathtub one time because there was no pot big enough for the ham … and yes, like the hacksaw incident, the tub was clean), or
- simmer (not boil) for 20-25 minutes per pound.
At Nobska Farms, these days we prefer the last method. It is relatively fast and quite effective in reducing the salt content of the ham.
After the allotted soaking/simmering time is complete, place the ham on a cutting board and remove the skin and some of the fat. (If you have
Ham ready for oven after simmering, studded with cloves
chosen the simmering method, the ham will be HOT!! Wait a little while until it is cool enough to handle.) Do not remove the fat down to the meat. The remaining fat will help keep the meat moist during the baking phase. (If desired, this is a good breaking point, and the ham can be refrigerated overnight and baked the next day.)
When you are ready for the final step, place the ham fat side up in a Pyrex® baking dish or roasting pan. The Rooster’s mother (Mama Rooster) would pour Coca-Cola® soft drink into the pan. This year, the Rooster made a pseudo-Coke® mixture with a little molasses, brown sugar and water. The fluid helps to moisturize the ham during the baking. Score the fat with crossing diamond cuts and stud with whole cloves. Put the ham in a 275° F oven uncovered and bake until the internal temperature of the meat is 155° F (about 20 minutes per pound).
For the final step, make a mixture of bread crumbs (gluten-free if you like) and brown sugar. Use a little of the liquid in the bottom of the roasting pan to moisten the mixture into a paste. Pat the mixture on top of the ham and baste with the liquid from the bottom of the pan.
Country cured ham ready to eat (with tur-duc-hen in background)
Place the ham back into the oven at 425° F until the glaze is nicely browned, might be 20 minutes, or so. Baste the ham a few times during the glazing process.
The ham is done.
Remove from the pan and place on a cutting board. Let the ham cool a little while as you set out the rest of the feast. When you are ready, carve the ham in thin slices. This can be done en masse (buffet-style) or one slice at at time to order (standing-at-the-head-of-the-table-style).
You will have left overs that will disappear little by little over the next few days. Folks passing through the kitchen cannot resist a nibble of ham as they walk by. The ham is also great for soups, e.g., split pea, as already mentioned, or Hoppin’ John soup.
More ways to use the ham will be posted later. Enjoy.
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