I love pork, something you’re probably aware of if you’re a regular reader - I’ve got quite a few piggy recipes on here. In fact, we eat it on nearly a daily basis, most often for breakfast in the form of bacon, fresh sausage or ham. This wasn’t always true; until our change in diet (and subsequently the purchase of an entire pastured hog) breakfast meat was reserved for Sunday brunch. Come to think of it, breakfast itself was reserved for Sundays – The Young One usually ate cereal or instant oatmeal before school, mine was almost always cottage cheese or a hard-boiled egg (if I even ate it) and Beloved rarely ate breakfast at all.
How times have changed. We eat breakfast every darn day and have lost 35 pounds each – and that breakfast almost always includes pork. No wonder it was a matter of mere months before we purchased a second pig.
Although we love pork, until we went whole hog (so to speak) 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 two large hams and a bunch of ham steaks that we started eating more of it…and I discovered that a smoked ham from Wilbur 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 and a lot of people do).
When we buy an entire hog, we pick up the fresh parts – chops, ribs, roasts, loins, sausage – as soon as the animal is butchered and packaged. Two weeks later we go back and collect the bacon and hams, which are smoked. 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 processed in this manner is a lot saltier than a commercial ham. They are also drier than a commercial ham, since they are not injected, so a little more thought needs to go into the preparation, at least of the whole hams (we just fry up the ham steaks).
If I were preparing a commercial ham, I’d score it, spread the glaze over it and throw it in the oven at 350º F until heated through – about 10 minutes per pound. With the smoked ham, I normally rinse the ham well and place it fat side up in a baking dish. I don’t score it, but I do cover it with foil and heat it at a lower temperature – 325º F – for about 20 minutes per pound. I don’t glaze it until it’s cooked, either, because juices from the ham are an integral part of it, along with sauteed apples and pure maple syrup.
The results are a tender, flavorful ham that’s a welcome change from the usual clove, cherry and pineapple-studded hams smeared in a combination of brown sugar and mustard – it’s certainly worth the trouble of tracking down a cold smoked ham if you don’t have the advantage of one in your freezer. This will take center stage on our table Christmas Eve.
Smoked Ham with Maple Apple Glaze
serves 6 to 8
3 to 4 pound, semi-boneless cold smoked ham
1 to 2 large tart baking apples, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 to 3/4 cup pure maple syrup
Preheat the oven to 325º F.
Rinse the ham well with cold water and pat dry. Place in a baking dish or roasting pan large enough to comfortably hold the ham, and cover tightly with foil.
Bake the ham until completely heated through, about 20 minutes per pound. About 10 minutes before the ham is done, melt the butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat until it begins to foam. Saute the apples in the butter until tender and golden, about 5 minutes, and add the maple syrup. Increase the heat slightly and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until the syrup begins to thicken. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Remove the ham from the oven and increase the temperature to 350º F. Carefully pour the juices from the ham into the skillet with the apple/maple syrup mixture and stir to combine. Spoon the glaze back over the ham and return to the oven. Bake, uncovered, for an additional 15 to 20 minutes to glaze the ham, basting it every 5 minutes.
Remove the ham to a cutting board and allow it to rest for about 5 minutes before carving; reserve the glaze from the pan. Carve, spoon the glaze over the slices and serve.
Posted in participation with Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s Real Food Wednesday