More About Country Hams
This time of year, hand-scrawled signs appear in shop windows across the South: "Cured country hams now available. Don't get left out; buy yours today!"
Country ham marks the approach of the holidays, a time when family recipes offer us a taste of tradition. Those ham recipes are as different as the regions from which they come. A touch of sugar, pinch of pepper, or the bold flavor of the cure--each defines a true country ham. When asked which produces the finest meat, I have to confess I enjoy them all.
You can find this delicacy, which is an acquired taste, as whole cooked hams, uncooked hams, or prepackaged slices. When buying your first, look for a ham aged five to six months; it will have a milder flavor. If you have a seasoned palate and crave a more concentrated flavor, a 12- to 14-month ham is ideal. Regardless of your choice, tackling an uncooked ham can be overwhelming. Your butcher, though, is your best friend in this project. Ask him to cut a little bit off the top of the hock; doing so will give you extra room in the roasting pan. Don't discard this piece of meat; instead, use it for seasoning soups and beans."
It's a good idea to remove mold (a natural part of the aging process) on the ham with elbow grease, warm water, and vinegar. After the ham has been scrubbed, soak it in a deep pot or kettle full of water to replace some of the moisture lost during curing. You'll need a large roasting pan for cooking. If your pan doesn't have a lid, heavy-duty aluminum foil will work just as well.
It's important for the ham to cool completely before slicing, or it can crumble. Serve thinly sliced at room temperature for optimal flavor.
Country ham dries out quickly. Slices can be frozen for two months or refrigerated for two weeks. Keep the ham moist by laying excess fat on top. The ham needs to breathe, so wrap with wax paper. Then secure with aluminum foil.
Our recipe ensures a juicy, traditionally flavored ham. Serve on biscuits with or without mustard. This is our salute to those who preserve their heritage the old-fashioned way.