Before the days of refrigeration, hogs were slaughtered in the fall and the hind legs cured into hams during the winter months. The meat was ready to eat by March or April, just in time for Easter dinner. Despite today's improved technology, ham has remained a traditional entree for this spring holiday.
Hams may be either brine- or dry-cured. In brine ("wet") curing, the fresh meat is injected with a solution of water, salt, sodium nitrate and nitrites and sugar or honey before it is cooked.
Dry curing entails rubbing the fresh meat with a dry-cure mixture of salt, sugar, sodium nitrate and nitrites and sometimes other seasonings. This process is used for "country"-style and specialty hams.
After curing, hams are sometimes hung in a smokehouse. The flavor that results depends on the type of wood burned, such as hickory, oak, apple or pecan. Many brine-cured hams, however, never see the inside of a smokehouse; liquid smoke flavor is injected with the brine solution.
The U.S. Deparment of Agriculture has set standards for the protein/cure solution ratio in hams. (Protein level is used because the curing solution dilutes the protein content of ham.) There are four labeling categories:
* Ham: The product contains no added water and is at least 20.5% protein.
* Ham With Natural Juices: The product contains at least 18.5% protein.
* Ham--Added Water: The product is at least 17% protein.
* Ham and Water Product: The product may contain any amount of water but the label must state the percent of "added ingredients."
Hams of all categories may be sold whole, in halves, portions or slices. Some are bone-in, others semi-boneless, boneless or canned. They can also be labeled either "fully cooked" (ready to eat) or "cook-before-eating."
To be served warm, fully cooked ham should be reheated in a 325-degree oven to an internal temperature of 140 degrees. Hams labeled cook-before-eating must be roasted to an internal temperature of 160 degrees before they are served.
Use the following roasting times as a guide:
Fully Cooked Ham
Whole (bone-in)--14 to 16 pounds--15 to 18 minutes per pound
Whole (boneless)--8 to 12 pounds--15 to 18 minutes per pound
Half (bone-in)--7 to 8 pounds--18 to 25 minutes per pound
Half (boneless)--4 to 6 pounds--18 to 25 minutes per pound
Whole (bone-in)--14 to 16 pounds--18 to 20 minutes per pound
Whole (boneless)--8 to 12 pounds--17 to 21 minutes per pound
Half (bone-in)--7 to 8 pounds--22 to 25 minutes per pound
Half (boneless)--4 to 6 pounds--21 to 26 minutes per pound
Although a whole (bone-in) ham offers the best value for the price, people usually pass up the savings because of the daunting quantity of meat (eternity has sometimes been defined as "two people and a ham"). Quantity is an asset, however, at a holiday gathering. In any case, there are innumerable ways to use leftover ham, and a great pot of soup may be made with the bone.
To prepare a whole ham for roasting, peel away the rind by slicing between it and the fat (Step 1) with a sharp knife. Next trim the fat (Step 2) to a thickness of 1/2-inch.
Score the fat in a diamond pattern (Step 3), without cutting into the meat. Stud each diamond with a whole clove (Step 4), if desired.
Place the meat on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Insert a meat thermometer so the bulb is centered in the thickest part but doesn't rest on bone or in fat. Do not add water or cover. If desired, glazes may be added during the last 15 minutes to 30 minutes of cooking.
Remove the ham from the pan and place, glazed side up, on a cutting board. Allow it to rest 15 minutes to 20 minutes to firm the meat before carving.
Cutting parallel to the bone, remove a few thin, lengthwise slices from the less meaty side to form a flat base (Step 5). Turn the ham so it rests on this area.
Make two cuts down to the bone at the point where the leg begins to widen and remove a wedge of meat from the ham (Step 6). Continue making thin slices straight down to the bone (Step 7), then insert the knife at the shank end and turn the blade to slice horizontally along the bone, freeing the slices (Step 8). For additional servings, turn the ham and slice parallel to the bone.
PINEAPPLE-BROWN SUGAR GLAZE
1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple
1 cup brown sugar, packed
Drain pineapple, reserving syrup or juice. Combine pineapple with brown sugar and spread over ham. Use reserved liquid for basting. Makes about 1 cup.