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Dec 18, 2008 12:00 PM

Country ham -- how to cook it?

I've been given a beautiful country ham for Christmas and am looking for some advice on how best to cook it. I've seen recipes that suggest putting it at a bare simmer for several hours. Any experience or other suggestions would be much appreciated.

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  1. I grew up with it sliced about 1/4 - 1/3 inch thick, then fried in a cast-iron pan over medium-high heat. Usually then flopped over itself on a biscuit. Don't cook it too much, though, because it gets hard as a rock if you do.

    My grandmother who didn't cook well (yes, they exist, believe it or not) simmered hers, which I think is a waste of a good (and expensive) ham. My grandmother who DID know her way around the kitchen did it in a medium oven (around 350, I'd say) for about 3 hours or so.

    Whatever you do, don't ruin it with Dr. Pepper and pickle juice like Alton Brown advises.

    I'm sure you know this, but it's essentially the same thing as a smoked prosciutto, just cured for a shorter time:

    7 Replies
    1. re: dmd_kc

      "Whatever you do, don't ruin it with Dr. Pepper and pickle juice like Alton Brown advises"

      Really, I thoughtthat looked pretty interesting

      1. re: sarge

        I tried it on a very expensive ham earlier this year. The flavors don't penetrate at all, and they were just, well, weird on the outside. Ended up cutting off as much of the outside as we could, and it was fine.

        And I didn't say it, but as others pointed out below, soaking and scrubbing first is the key before baking.

        It's true that it's salty as all get-out when fried. But to someone like me who grew up with it tough and salty, that's just part and parcel of having ham biscuits. They're what they are, and I do love them. But that's an acquired taste.

      2. re: dmd_kc

        hi dmd_kc,

        So I assume it is very much ok to consume it as is (no cooking) since it is essentially prosciutto?

          1. re: JRCann

            Country hams are no different than Prosciutto and you don't have to cook prosciutto before eating. What makes you think they must be cooked before consuming.

            "Joe Amadee, a distributor for Sermara Enterprises, an American company that sells Italian equipment used to salt and to dry prosciutto, said he has outfitted more than a half-dozen country-ham producers. ''People who understand the prosciutto process realize it's pretty much the same as the country-ham process,'' he said.

            The Food Safety and Inspection Service of the Agriculture Department agrees. The same regulations govern all dry-cured hams produced in the United States, whether country or prosciutto style. Dry-curing with salt helps prevent bacterial growth, making the hams safe to eat uncooked."


            1. re: JRCann

              KTinNYC has it exactly right. No real difference between raw country ham and prosciutto crudo, except for the flavor. Even though the flavor is quite different, good country ham works quite well in just about every way you'd want to use prosciutto, whether raw with melon or cooked in a pasta dish. I won a spot in the local PBS station's on-air fundraiser, and in the accompanying cookbook, with my recipe for Tennessee Straw and Hay, green and white fettucini with a sauce of cream, mushrooms, peas, onion and country ham.

          2. Here's what I do (see Baked Ham). Untreated country ham is very salty. so a method like this is higholy recommended.


            1. Most country hams come with a tag attached to the bag with identifying name, address, etc. Call and ask. I'll bet the person who answers the phone will know several great ways to use this product. Some country hams get soaked then baked while others are simmered. My money is on the company rep for good information.

              1. Does anyone know where to get organic hams?

                3 Replies
                1. re: Bsaltman

                  Find a local farmer or supplier and go from there. Organic is somewhat of a misnomer. You can have a pig that is fed only "organic" feed, but the pig itself may have been bound up in a tiny industrial cage. Conversely, a local farmer who raises pigs on pasture and allows them to forage naturally may not have the organic certification label attached to his/her product, but I can tell you that I would buy the pastured pig long before I just found something labeled as organic. At the risk of sounding somewhat harsh: know your food, just don't buy something because you've heard the word organic on TV commercials.

                  1. re: HaagenDazs

                    Right on, Haagen Dazs. I have been working with a local butcher (Fleisher's in Kingston, NY) who gets all his meat from local farms. I bought a big old "ham" from him, but it was up to me to make it taste like ham and not just pork, and I failed miserably and my 3 year old rejected it outright, so instead of going to all this trouble, I thought I might be able to buy an organic prepared ham.

                    Are commercials really using the word "organic" these days? I don't have a TV, so I'm out of that loop. But thanks for the heads' up!


                    1. re: Bsaltman

                      No, I haven't seen a lot of commercial's for "organic" meat, but there's greater emphasis being put on how the animal grew up. I think that Haagen Dazs's point is that there is a "problem" with animals being labeled as "organic" when in reality, they are being fed organic grains while still being couped up in a pen all day with who knows how many other animals not walking around and developing flavor.

                      Personally, I've been working on getting into the habit of buying pasture-raised, hormone/antibiotic free meat from smaller farms because these animals are raised by people who are generally more invested in the animal's welfare while it was still alive. Pasture-raised animals taste better, and I like the fact that the critter was a little happier while it spent it's time on this Earth.

                      Now, regarding the ham - was it a fresh ham or a cured ham? There isn't a whole lot that one could do to a fresh ham that would make me like it, but a cured ham is divine.

                2. I posted this on your other post but will repeat so you do miss it, this method will yeid a less salty ham. And on the farm we never fry ham-- that concentrats the salt and turns it to show leather. Also your cooked ham will last for up to 6 weeks in the fridge as long as you keep all exposed flesh covered in plastic wrap - no air or it will dry out. My G-mother used the skin and fat cap to accomplish the same thing.

                  re: Ichabod Since I just finished cooking one for Xmas (turned out awesome -- genuine "pig candy"!!) Here's my late mother's and Gmother's recipe. It takes a couple days.

                  Take ham out of the bag and throw it in the sink and scrub the outside throughly with a stiff bristled brush and warm running water to remove the mold and other things. Get down into all the cracks and crevases.

                  Place the ham in a large bucket and cover completely with cold water. Soak for 12 hours, drain the water turn the ham over and cover with cold water again for another 12 hours, Repeat this at least 3 times. (my mom always said for three days!) This will help remove the salt and cure.

                  Then place it in a large boiling (crab steamer) pot, cover with cold water Bring to a steady simmer. Add more hot water as needed to keep the ham completely covered. Simmer 20-25 mins per pound. Check internal temp, remove at 155-160, let rest. Skin the ham while still warm. Carve off extra thin slices for best flavor.

                  My source for ham and bacon -- RM Felts, Ivor Va, 757-859-6231 - no website --- you have to call. nice people, wholesale prices, quickdelivery via Fed Ex. This is classic VA Ham.

                  100 yr old family recipe... there you go.

                  Note Use a PLASTIC bucket to soak the ham in. A galvanized one would be really nasty!

                  12 Replies
                  1. re: JRCann

                    Thanks to all. I plan on cooking it this weekend and will report the results.

                    1. re: JRCann

                      My husband and I just bought a cured ham from A.B. Vannoy in western N.C., and this is our first foray into preparing a country ham (usually, my ham is purchased between two halves of a biscuit at the state fair). I've noticed that some people do all the steps you mentioned above, but then go one step further and skin the ham and put it in the oven to crisp up. Do you recommend this? Does that extra step make it leathery?

                      1. re: jazzy77

                        "I've noticed that some people do all the steps you mentioned above, but then go one step further and skin the ham and put it in the oven to crisp up"

                        do you mean the skin or the entire ham?

                        If the whole ham, I would think that "crisping" it is unnecessary and not a good idea. If its a well cured ham its already a bit dry. I think those who fry it are the same, saltier and bordering on leather. I am not one for "Hog jerky". I like my pig candy moist and easy to chew. (I may be old but I have all my teeth-- perhaps thats why)

                        1. re: JRCann

                          Sorry if I was being confusing - the skinned whole ham (not sure what one can do with the skin) would be put back in the oven to crisp. I'm trying to avoid having it be too salty - I like fried country ham, but I don't know if the others we're serving it to would.

                          1. re: jazzy77

                            I'm trying to avoid having it be too salty - I like fried country ham

                            There is the conundrum. By frying (and "crisping it in the oven" you only concentrate the salt flavor by removing some moisture. My mom's method of soaking and changing the water at least three times removes a considerable amount of salt and leaves the meat moist. First day we have it warm, sliced on a plate. After that, we just slice it off cold (usually because its kept on the porch) and slap it on a bisquit. Throw the skin away.

                      2. re: JRCann

                        Thanks for all your help! We used most of your recommendations for making our ham - and it was wonderful! (Someone actually also the words "pig candy" at dinner that night!). We ended up soaking it for 2 days in a 5 gal., plastic bucket, and then "steaming" it in the oven all day in a water bath.

                        It was divine, and we're excited for next year to roll around so we can make another.

                        1. re: JRCann

                          I was reading an ancient Kentucky cookbook and came across the method you described above.The final step involved simmering the ham in Champagne for a few hours.Curious as to what you,and others,think of this technique.

                          1. re: scrumptiouschef

                            Thats a good waste of Champagne :0). My mother-in-law in Tennessee frys it in a skillet.serves it with bisquits, gravy, eggs...etc... Country ham kicks butt

                            1. re: scrumptiouschef

                              yep, a waste of "good booze" as Ralph C. would say!

                              1. re: JRCann

                                The time has come to cook my 16lb bone-in,unsliced Benton's country ham.It's a couple years old[bought at the 1 year mark and somehow uneaten til now]. I reckon I'll soak her in a 5 gallon plastic bucket for a couple days changing the water every 12 hours or so.

                                I don't like the idea of submerging the ham in water for the final cookdown though and am thinking instead of braising it in the oven.I have a few quarts of pork stock made from pig's feet sitting in the fridge right now.

                                What do y'all think of putting a couple inches of stock in the bottom of a big pan,tenting the ham with foil and braising at 200 degrees for a few hours?

                                This may sound blasphemous to some but I'm wondering how good of a job my 5.5 quart Rival crockpot would do.I can fashion a lid from foil,pour the stock in the bottom and put her on low all day long.

                                Hoping to hear from the serious cooks.

                                1. re: scrumptiouschef

                                  #1; I don't think you can get a 16lb ham in a 5.5 qt pot!

                                  #2 Most people are looking to reduce the salt content when preparing. I think the idea of putting your ham in pork stock made from pigs feet (if they are cured or smoked will only add to the total salt content.) Your ham is well cured by now and would probably benefit from 8 hours simmering in plain water. Save the pigs feet for another dish. Good luck.

                            2. re: JRCann

                              I get my hams from Felts too. Best out there. I was born and raised in Virginia on country ham. We prepared ours the same as you except only 1 day soaking. Guess we liked it salty. And, I know there are a lot of people who read your reply who have no idea what a "crab pot" is. Chesapeake Bay blue crab, best of all!!