The Secret Ingredient to the Best Ham Salad

It's not Wickles Pickles or even Duke's, y'all. It's simply all about the ham.

We love ham for so many reasons. The traditional main course of Christmas and Easter dinner, we love our hams tender and sweet with crispy, salty fat, studded with aromatic cloves and drizzled with a golden, brown sugar glaze. Yum…how any more days until Christmas dinner?

Holiday hams leave us with another reason why we love them–leftovers. Making ham sandwiches is the typical approach to using up leftover ham, but we also like to stir ham into quiches and breakfast casseroles. And you can't beat a pot of thick and creamy ham and potato soup for warming the bones on a cold, wintry night. Before we close the book on how to use ham leftovers, consider ham salad.

Cheese Puffs with Ham Salad

Alison Miksch; Prop Styling: Buffy Hargett Miller; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Start with Quality Ham

Nothing like the gelatinous canned deviled ham of your childhood, a hearty and flavorful ham salad starts with, you guessed it, a good ham. Just like chicken or potato salads, we all have our favorite stir-ins–mayonnaise, mustard, pickles, or boiled eggs–and our preferred method is what we consider "the best." Without a quality ham as the base for your salad, however, you may as well purchase the commercial brand.

A canned ham is either a whole piece of ham or, more usually, pieces pressed together to form a "solid" whole piece. Dry gelatin has been added to the can, the ham is sealed inside, and the can is cooked with steam. During this process juices from the ham mix with the gelatin and upon cooling form a salty opaque jelly, which provides a cushion for the ham during from shipping and handling. Sounds tasty, right? I acknowledge the important role that canned meats and other convenience products have played, and still play, in providing our society with necessary food and nutrition. But whenever possible, readers, use a smoked or baked ham instead of a canned ham for your salad. Your dish will actually taste like ham. The diced pieces of ham (unless you have ground them) won't crumble apart from too much liquid, as canned ham often does.

Two Ways to Make Ham Salad

Option One: Classic Ham Salad

This quick and easy Ham Salad recipe calls for finely chopped smoked ham, and uses cream cheese instead of mayonnaise to bind all the ingredients together. Spoon it into airy cheese puffs and serve it at brunch or bridal showers.

Option Two: Deviled Ham Terrine

Use your food processor to prepare the smoked ham in this Deviled Ham Terrine. Don't be dismayed by the seemingly long ingredient list; you probably already have all the items in your pantry. You can make this recipe up to three days ahead, and I think it actually tastes better a day or so after it has been made and the flavors have blended together.

Ham salad is a nice switch from chicken or egg salad. Use ham salad as a dip with crackers or baby vegetables. Or use it as a sandwich spread with your favorite bread, crispy lettuce and fresh tomatoes.

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