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County Ham - Ready to try again

I bought a country ham a few years ago from a reputable establishment in Kentucky. It wasn't what I was expecting. It was overwhelmingly smoky. I stored it in a garbage bag in the refrigerator so that it wouldn't permeate everything with the aroma of smoke. I guess that was a mistake. It molded and I threw it out.

I'm ready to try again but I have questions. Is American country ham always heavily smoked? Are there brands that are less smoky than others?

Can I store it uncovered on the countertop? If not, how do I store it?

Will it mold? Supposedly the mold is harmless and can be scraped off, but I'm not sure I like that...

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  1. Mold is real traditional which is why you scrub it well with a stiff bush beofre soaking and changng the water several times before begining to roast, boil etc.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Candy

      You did soak it overnight in water, then simmered it a good long time before baking or eating, right?

      I've gotten ham from this place and found it very tasty (it has preparation instructions, too):

      http://www.cliftyfarm.com/

    2. You are talking about storing it before cooking?

      Yes, this style of ham is heavily salted and smoked. Soaking before cooking reduces both - to a degree.

      If there is a Chinese market around, see if they sell this type of ham by the slice. That would let you experiment for $5 rather than $50.

      paulj

      1. Check this site. I've been buying from them for years. Unless you really know how to cook a real country ham, I would try the already cooked slices in sealed packets. Remember, with Virginia hams, there is a big difference between Smithfield and Country ham...Smithfield is pretty salty, Country milder. With a dry cured uncooked ham, mold is normal. Do not throw it away, just scrub with water and vinegar. You do need to soak for several days.
        http://www.smithfieldcollection.com/

        1. I have made a Country Ham for several years now at every holiday season. I do it at Christmas because I enjoy those additional weeks of curing and the flavors that are produced by it. The hams are usually available in early November - but I feel the additional weeks are well worth the wait and if the ham arrives early I cover it in a brown paper bag - you do not want insects getting in the ham - and I hang it in a cool place (my detached garage) for the additional weeks until I am ready to cook it. I buy a (Nitrate/Nitrite-Free) Free-Range Aged Country Ham from Nancy Newsom at Newsom's Hams in Princeton, Kentucky. (http://www.newsomscountryham.com/) I live in Santa Monica, CA - so it is shipped by UPS. I didn't have a large enough pot when originally I undertook this project so I bought a stainless steel turkey fryer that can be attached to a propane fed hob. (I cook the ham outdoors, of course.) Real long-cured Country Ham arrives at the door unlike any ham you have ever experienced. It is unrefrigerated, covered in mold and is as hard as a billiard ball. So you are not so much cooking a Country Ham as you are re-hydrating the thing - but you must cook the ham until the meat reaches 170 degrees Farenheit - the ham has been hanging in a barn in Kentucky for the better part of a year after all - but the important aspect is the slow and steady rehydration of the meat. Nancy Newsom's Free-Range Country Hams are more marbled than other hams due to their free-range lifestyle and feeding and you want to retain as much of that marbling as possible - that is why slow and steady heat must be applied. There are several ways to cook a Country Ham and - given that - this is how I do it: I start by soaking the ham in water. Most recipes call for a soaking of at least 12 hours - or overnight. I started that way too (soaking overnight) and it produced fine ham. The next year I soaked it for two days. Even better Then three days. Wonderful! Then 4 days. Also superb. I haven't gone beyond four days. (And four days might be a bit excessive.) But the longer you soak the ham the more salt cure you will leech from it. I change the water every morning and evening with fresh, cold water from the tap. I dump the soaking-water directly into the storm sewer in the alley behind my house. You do not want the residue from the soaking process in your home plumbing system. After the first day of the soaking process you need to take the mold off the ham - the first day of soaking loosens the mold so that it is easier to remove. I use a plastic scrub brush - a brush that is dedicated to that task alone - and white vinegar. The mold comes off easily and is no cause for any alarm whatsoever. When soaking the ham, make certain the ham is completely submerged with several inches of water covering it. This will ensure that the ham is not exposed to the air (oxygen) during the soaking process. At the conclusion of the soaking period I dump the water one last time - wash the pot - replace the ham and fill the pot with cold tap water. I add 1 cup dark molasses and 1/2 cup cider vinegar to the pot and set it over the flame. When the pot starts to simmer - a very low simmer with small, steady bubbles breaking the surface of the cooking liquid - you need to maintain that very low simmer for the duration of the cooking time. It is important that you do not boil the ham - you will compromise the ham by drying it out - melting the marbled fat - and you will bring the ham up to temperature sooner than is required. The ham should be simmered for 20 minutes per pound - that means for a 17 pound ham I simmer it just under 6 hours. I usually start cooking the ham around 3:00 pm the day before we will be dining. I test for doneness with a digital instant-read thermometer (170 degrees F = done) and I then leave the ham to cool in the cooking liquid overnight. The next day I dump the cooking liquid into trash bags - so that the municipal sewage system is not clogged with the fat that is floating in the cooking pot. At this point the ham is well-cooked - the bones are loose and the bones in the hock come out easily. I trim away the skin and fat layer from the ham - retaining about a half inch of fat in a uniform layer (anywhere the fat remains.) I score the fat in one-inch diamonds - just as you have always done when glazing a ham - and I slather the entire ham with Grey Poupon Dijon Mustard and I pepper it liberally with fresh cracked black pepper and finally I pack a layer of dark brown sugar over the entire ham. I place the ham on a v-rack in a roasting pan with an inch of water poured in the pan so that drips from the glaze will not burn in the oven and I bake the ham at 350 degrees F until the glaze is set and well-caramelized. You will need to keep an eye on this process and make sure your glaze does not burn - but is should be well-glazed. That's it. And a better ham I have yet to encounter. It is unlike any ham you have ever tasted - unless you are already familiar with Country Ham. (For further explanation and praise read: PIG PERFECT by Peter Kaminsky. He is a great fan of ham (in general) and a true supporter of Nancy Newsom.)

          2 Replies
          1. re: cgtravers

            This set of instructions is saved for next holiday season, when I'm going to finally try a whole country ham. My husband was wary and the budget was tight, so we just bought some ham slices from Broadbent's in Kentucky this year. They were amazing! I can't wait to try a whole one, soaked and prepared a lot like this. Thanks!

            1. re: MsMaryMc

              That's great to hear MsMaryMc. I think you will be very pleased! I already have my ham ordered with Newsom's Hams for Christmas 2012. (FYI - Newsom's sells a limited number of Free-Range Aged Country Hams every year - a very limited number. It's a pricey product - but as it is truly artisanal and an extremely hands-on process - the curing goes through 18 different hand-rubbed curing stages - frankly, I am surprised it does not cost more.) Above all, I want the real Country Ham experience - just like our pioneer ancestors had - and I will not eat nitrates or nitrites and just about every Country Ham you find out here is cured with sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite. I gave up cold cuts/deli meats entirely until nitrate/nitrite-free meats started showing up in the supermarket. And that nitrite/nitrate ban also includes smoked sausage and bacon, etc. (Newsom's sells a fine Nitrate/Nitrite-Free bacon BTW - it is superb - although you can find several brands of Nitrate/Nitrite-Free meats at Whole Foods - if you are near one.) I also had the additional up-front cost of buying the stainless steel turkey fryer from amazon.com (I will not cook with aluminum!) and the propane hob that goes under it - but that has already been amortized over several years and should last the rest of my life. I'd love to know how your ham comes out...

          2. I'm not sure what you are planning to do with your country ham, but I am a huge fan of these Edwards Boneless Country Ham.. http://virginiatraditions.com/Boneles...

            I just slice and use for breakfast, sandwiches, biscuits, etc.