Ham season is now

Spiral sliced smoked ham and Yukon gold potatoes with chives. BY JACK CLEMONS
April 20, 2014

It’s definitely ham season. We’ve been inundated with coupons from HoneyBaked Ham (if you want to use yours, the nearest franchise is located in Wilmington), and the grocery bins are overflowing with hams of every shape and size. Why now?

In earlier times, when most people grew their own crops, pigs raised for their meat were typically slaughtered in fall. Without refrigeration, some of that pork was eaten while still fresh, and the rest was cured or smoked during the winter months. Because the lengthy curing process was completed by spring, ham became a familiar centerpiece of Easter dinner.

Traditionally, the word ham refers to the meaty hind leg of the pig. Over time, we’ve come to use the word ham to describe all sorts of processed pork products, including the confusing item known as turkey ham. In many European countries, hams have earned specific designations based on the breed of pigs, where they’re raised and the curing processes used.

American smoked pork purveyors have evolved into large-scale industrial operations that offer bland, unexceptional, mass-produced hams. Modern pigs have been bred for such leanness that current processing techniques require the injection of various liquids (typically a combination of salty and sweet brining agents) to add moisture and smoke flavors. Evidence of this approach shows up on the label as “ham, water added” or “hickory smoke” listed as an ingredient.

You can avoid some of the less-appetizing elements of grocery-store hams that have been wet-cured by selecting your ham from a small-scale supplier with exacting standards. These vendors hand-select the pig breeds they raise, and most dry-smoke their hams into rich, meaty delicacies. Some of these specialists offer their products online, for example, Wisconsin-based Nueske, Snake River Farms, Harrington’s of Vermont and the venerable d’Artagnan.

If you’ve waited too long to order online (or don’t want to pay for overnight shipping), you can still serve a memorable ham dinner by following a few tips. First, select the highest-quality ham you can afford. Make sure it’s a bone-in ham, either half or whole, depending upon the size of your group. Not only does the bone contribute to better flavor and texture, you can also use the leftover bone to make delicious soup.

The next step is to keep the ham from drying out. Place the ham in a roasting pan along with some wine or broth and cover it tightly with foil. Do not, under any circumstances, use the packet of glaze attached to the ham wrapper. It is an unsavory mess of high-fructose corn syrup, food starch, artificial flavors, coloring and preservatives. Make your own glaze; you’ll be much happier with the result.

And, save the glaze for last. Don’t cover the ham with glaze until the final half hour in the oven; otherwise you’ll have a coating of burned sugar on your ham. Don’t overcook your ham. Most are precooked and only need to be reheated, low and slow. Insert a meat thermometer in the thickest part near the bone and stop cooking when it reads 135 F.

Finally, let your ham rest before slicing. Allow at least 20 minutes under a foil tent in order for the juices to redistribute. This will also be enough time for the internal temperature to reach the desired 140 F, as it will continue to cook during this time out of the oven.

Now that you’re ready for a festive Easter dinner, centered on a perfectly prepared smoked ham, you’ll need to consider the side dishes.

Since tradition plays a large role in holiday meals, you’ll hear all sorts of preferences, from potato salad to sweet potatoes. The spiral-sliced ham in the photo is shown with boiled Yukon gold potatoes, split open to hold butter and chives. I’ve included a recipe from last week’s Washington Post that we found was a surprising and tasty twist on mac and cheese: Cavatelli with Braised Sauerkraut and Mustard Mascarpone. Of course, don’t forget the chocolate bunny ears for dessert.

Baked Ham

6- to 8-lb bone-in ham
1 C dry wine

Preheat oven to 325 F. Place ham in a roasting pan, cut side down. Pour wine over ham and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Bake, covered, for one hour. Remove foil and apply glaze, if desired. Continue baking until internal temperature reaches 135 F. Remove from oven and allow to rested under a foil tent for 20 minutes.

Mustard Ham Glaze

1 C grainy mustard
1 C brown sugar, packed
1/4 t ground cloves

Combine the ingredients in a bowl to form a thick paste. Spread over ham during final 30 minutes of baking.

Maple Apricot Glaze

1/2 C apricot preserves
1/4 C maple syrup
1/4 C Dijon mustard
1/4 t ground cloves

Combine the ingredients in a bowl. Spread over ham during final 30 minutes of baking.

Cavatelli & Braised Sauerkraut*

8 oz cavatelli pasta
2 T olive oil
1 sliced onion
2 C drained sauerkraut
1/2 C mascarpone cheese
2 T whole-grain mustard
2 T butter
1/2 C grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
salt, to taste
snipped chives, for garnish

Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Add the pasta and cook to al dente.

Drain and reserve 1 C of the cooking water; set aside. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium and sauté sliced onion until tender. Stir in the drained sauerkraut and reduce heat to low; cover and continue cooking until the pasta is ready.

Meanwhile, whisk together the mascarpone cheese and mustard; set aside.
When the pasta is drained, add it to the skillet along with 1/2 C of the reserved cooking water.

Add the butter, grated cheese and mascarpone mixture, stirring to combine. Adjust seasonings to taste and garnish with snipped chives.

*Adapted from the Washington Post


Bake ham at 325F for the time shown below. Remove from oven when internal temperature reaches the cook temp. Rest 15 to 20 minutes for temperature to reach the safe serve temp.
Cook time Cook temp Serve temp
Cooked whole ham 15-18 minutes 135F 140F
Cooked half ham 18-24 minutes 135F 140F
Cooked spiral ham 10-14 minutes 135F 140F
Cooked canned ham 15-20 minutes 135F 140F
Cooked picnic ham 25-30 minutes 135F 140F
Uncooked whole ham 18-20 minutes 155F 160F
Uncooked half ham 22-25 minutes 155F 160F
Uncooked picnic ham 30-35 minutes 165F 170F
From last week

Last week's column about brunch and Bakewell Cream left many people wondering where to find this product. Here goes:

Where to find Bakewell Cream?

• Online at King Arthur's Flour and the New England Cupboard

• Grocery stores carry Argo baking powder with sodium acid pyrophosphate.

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