Country ham. To boil or not to boil ?
That is the question. Inspired by PIG PERFECT I ordered one up from Ms. Col. Newsom and will cook it Sunday and glaze it with maple goodness. Some advice says to boil/poach first and some to just do a kinda braisey glazey roast. Any opinions?
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.)
I had a similar question earlier this year--here's a link to the thread:
If it's truly a country ham you'll want to boil out some of that salt.
My husband's family's method involves boiling the ham in a stock pot, then wrapping the whole thing (pot included) in a blanket, where it sits for something like 48 hours. I have not yet witnessed or attempted this method.
Whatever you do, make some sweet potato biscuits for sandwiches!
PS I never cooked our ham--never had a big enough crowd!