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Fresh Ham

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I got a fresh ham about an hour ago - kind of unplanned. I have many cookbooks, but I can't find much on preparing a whole fresh ham - I only have experience with "cured, cooked" hams, which is simply a reheating job. The only guidance that I've found is 30-35 minutes per pound. This is a 10 pound ham, so I need to cook it 5 hours at 325.

If I want to smoke it, I'll have to transfer my (brined) turkey to the oven Alternatively, I can cook the ham in the oven.

Regardless, I'm going to make a vermont maple glaze. My question: I have guidance that says to keep a fat layer around the ham (1/4 to 1/2 inch), but other guidance that says to make slivers "deep into the ham" and stuff with things (garlic, cloves, etc.).

I don't want to dry it out. How do I get flavor to the center of the ham w/o brining? Or should I brine it?

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  1. A fresh ham (aka pork leg) is to be treated like a very large pork roast, not like a cured ham. Think of a pork shoulder without all the intermuscular fat: it's leaner than shoulder, though, with a ton of solid meat. The top skin and fat should be scored, but not glazed (let alone studded with cloves), and you will need to cook the thing at a higher temperature to make the luscious skin crisp: 375 is the usual for that.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Karl S.

      Thanks! That helps. Do you mean scored through the fat layer down to the meat, or just score the top of the fat?

      1. re: Karl S.

        Also - there is probably an almost 1-inch fat layer on the ham. The butcher said to leave it on, but some of the web sources say to trimit to 1/4" ????

        1. re: rudeboy

          Do not trim it if it still has the skin atop the fat layer. Score through the skin & fat but not into the flesh itself. It's just like duck breast that way.

          The idea is that the scored fat will render off (but not completely) and you get the lozenges (diamond-shaped pieces) of lusciously crisp skin as cracklings.

          While normally I would agree with the later poster about cooking a large haunch in a moderate 325F oven, towards the end you would need to raise the temp to 375 or much more to get the skin crisp -- if the skin is cooked at 350 or less, it stays rubbery.

          Another thing about large cuts of meat is that you need remove them an hour or two before cooking to take the chill off the meat before cooking.

      2. Personally, I would cook the fresh ham at no higher than 325F. It is a BIG piece of meat and you need to cook it to an internal of 165F as most people will not eat pork with any "rareness".

        Personally, I would NOT brine it. The meat will be tender IF you do NOT overcook it. And if you keep track of the internal temperature, that will not happen.

        I would not do a maple syrup glaze. The glaze works really nice on a smoked ham as the saltiness works with the sweetness. I think that a savory approach with garlic and rosemary would be a better approach.

        2 Replies
        1. re: jlawrence01

          Last year we used Cook's Illustrated recipe, brined it, and smoked it. Our offset smoker has room for both a turkey and a fresh ham. But you could cook one tonight and one tomorrow.

          If so, cook the ham tonight, is my opinion.

          Roast

          1 fresh half ham bone-in with skin, 6 to 8 pounds, preferably shank end, rinsed
          1 cup apple cider
          2 cups packed dark brown sugar or light brown
          5 whole cloves

          Brine

          4 cups kosher salt or 2 cups table salt
          3 cups packed dark brown sugar or light brown
          2 heads of garlic cloves separated, lightly crushed and peeled
          10 bay leaves
          1/2 cup whole black peppercorns , crushed

          Garlic and Herb Rub

          1 cup fresh sage from 1 large bunch, packed lightly
          1/2 cup fresh parsley from 1 bunch
          8 medium cloves of garlic
          1 tablespoon kosher salt or 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
          1/2 tablespoon ground black pepper
          1/4 cup olive oil

          Glaze

          1 glaze (see separate recipe)

          Buying a fresh ham can be tricky, and we had the best results when we ordered straight from the butcher. When ordering, be sure to ask for the shank end with skin on and unscored.


          1. Carefully slice through skin and fat with serrated knife, making 1-inch diamond pattern. Be careful not to cut into meat.

          Bring cider, brown sugar, and cloves to boil in small nonreactive saucepan over high heat; reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until syrupy and reduced to about 1 1/3 cups, 5 to 7 minutes. (Glaze will thicken as it cools between bastings; cook over medium heat about 1 minute, stirring once or twice, before using.)

          2. In large (about 16-quart) bucket or stockpot, dissolve salt and brown sugar in 1 gallon hot tap water. Add garlic, bay leaves, black pepper, and 1 gallon cold water. Submerge ham in brine and refrigerate 8 to 24 hours.

          3. Set large disposable roasting pan on baking sheet for extra support; place flat wire rack in roasting pan. Remove ham from brine; rinse under cold water and dry thoroughly with paper towels. Place ham, wide cut-side down, on rack. (If using sirloin end, place ham skin-side up.) Let ham stand, uncovered, at room temperature 1 hour.

          4. Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 500 degrees. In workbowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, process sage, parsley, garlic, salt, pepper, and oil until mixture forms smooth paste, about 30 seconds. Rub all sides of ham with paste.

          5. Roast ham at 500 degrees for 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue to roast, brushing ham with glaze every 45 minutes, until center of ham registers 145 to 150 degrees on instant-read thermometer, about 2 1/2 hours longer. Tent ham loosely with foil and let stand until center of ham registers 155 to 160 degrees on thermometer, 30 to 40 minutes. Carve and serve.

          1. re: jlawrence01

            Lots of coarse black pepper, kosher salt, olive oil and rosemary will do the job. That's how the make it in Rome. Then they slice it up and serve it cold on these terrific huge rolls at their delis.

            Fresh ham is terrific. The more fat on the exterior, the better. You can make slits in it and slide in the garlic cloves. It will not dry it out!

            Sit the roast on top of a bed of carrots, celery, herbs, and parsley and add some chicken or beef stock and some white wine to the bottom of the pan - You'll get the foundation of a good gravy.

          2. Roast at 325 until done. Then remove from the oven to stand. It will stand evry well for 1-2 hours loosely tented. At that time remove the skin and place in a hot oven to crisp up into cracklings. When you slice and serve you can sprinkle crisp cracklings over each servng or keep them for crackling corn bread.

            We had fresh ham for a gourmet club diner a few weeks ago. It was served with braised red cabbage with apples. 5 hours is a pretty good idea for time. It is a very large, very rich and moist pork roast.