Things are beginning to calm down around here as I become comfortable in my new web hosting home. I’m still putting things away and rearranging the furniture, but all is well at the Sushi Bar and I’m happy to be getting back down to business.
The business today includes ham.
When we began sourcing whole hogs, we went through 3 a year. I know that sounds like a lot – it IS a lot, but we were so enamored with being able to pull bacon and sausage and ham steaks out of the freezer, we were eating it for breakfast nearly every damn day. These days, not so much; breakfast is usually just eggs, and we save the breakfast meats mostly for weekends or when we have breakfast for dinner. So our piggy consumption has dropped to two hogs a year…which equates to 8 hams.
(Note: yes, I know there are really only two hams on a hog; one from each side. Our butchers cut off the ends of each and slice the centers into ham steaks. Hence, we get four “hams” from each pig.)
Although we love pork, until we began sourcing whole hogs we didn’t eat a lot of ham; it was usually a “special occasion” type of thing. It wasn’t until we found ourselves with all of these hams in the freezer that we started eating more of it…and I discovered that a smoked ham from a pastured hog was a somewhat different proposition than a ham purchased at the grocery store.
Commercially available hams are injected with a combination of salt, sugar, sodium nitrite, sodium nitrate, sodium erythorbate, sodium phosphate, potassium chloride, water and flavorings. The ham is then cooked to a temperature of 150º F; the combination of the chemical cure and cooking make the hams you buy at the grocery store labeled “water added” and “fully cooked” – all you need to do is heat them up (or not, if you like cold ham; a lot of people do).
The hams from our hogs are processed very differently. They are cured in a brine of salt and brown sugar (yeah, we’re not real crazy about that, but the sugar makes up a very small portion of the brine and it’s certainly better than all of the chemicals used to cure a commercial ham) and then smoked at a temperature considerably less than a commercial ham – this is known as “cold smoking.” From what I’ve read, this process essentially cooks the ham, but personally I wouldn’t eat it cold until I’ve cooked it first – for one thing, a ham cured this way is a lot saltier than a commercial ham. It is also drier than a commercial ham, since they are not injected, so a little more thought needs to go into the preparation.
When we first began cooking these lovely pieces of meat, I’d soak them in water to get rid of some of the salt, roast them slowly in the oven, then glaze them with a combination of the juices given off by the ham and maple syrup – incredibly delicious, but kind of labor intensive. Recently, though, I’ve begun cooking them in the slow cooker – just place the ham in the crock with a bit of apple juice or cider, set the temperature to low and walk away for 8 or so hours. The result is a meltingly tender, incredibly flavorful ham that just falls apart when you serve it.
You can’t really slice it, but who cares? It is damn good.
Since the hams are usually pretty sizable – I often have to cut them into two or three pieces to get them to fit in the slow cooker – we usually have plenty of leftovers, even with the bottomless pit that is The Young One. Sometimes we just heat it up, but because I am married to a Ham Salad junkie I’ve found myself making this more and more often. Which is a good thing; until I met Beloved, I never ate ham salad. Don’t ask me why, because that I can’t tell you – I guess I just never ate it growing up. It must not be a “Southern thing.” After we moved to Ohio, I’d buy it at the deli every so often, but rarely ate it myself because I simply didn’t care for it.
All I can say is I care for it now; when I make it for our lunch, Beloved and I often end up arguing over who gets the last bit – it’s that good. It’s pretty versatile, too – this version has apples and raisins in it because that’s what I had on hand (it may still be really warm in some parts of the country, but here in Podunk autumn has arrived). At any rate, I’ve made it before with things like pineapple and cilantro, so you can add just about anything you want to suit your tastes. Made as written, though, it is just delicious.
- 3 cups finely chopped cooked ham
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 2 stalks celery, diced
- 1 small red onion, finely diced
- 1 medium apple, peeled, cored and diced
- 1/2 cup raisins
- Salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
- Stir together the ham, mayonnaise, celery, onion, apple and raisins in a large bowl until well combined. Taste; season as needed with salt and pepper.
- Serve as a salad, with lettuce and tomatoes, or wrapped in romaine leaves.
- Nutrition (per serving): 406 calories, 31.6g total fat, 86.3mg cholesterol, 694.7mg sodium, 393.4mg potassium, 13.2g carbohydrates, 1g fiber, 9.5g sugar, 19.4g protein