Californian needs help understanding country/virginia ham!!
I've been dying to try the Eggs with Cream, Spinach, and Country Ham recipe on epicurious.
However, finding country ham in Los Angeles hasn't been easy. What I've read suggests that country ham is intensely flavored and much saltier than regular ham, and it seems to be only available via mail order outside the south.
Today, when I was at the asian market, I saw something labeled "Virginia Ham." I bought it (see photo). The asian market seems like a really strange place to find country ham, so I'm extremely skeptical and unsure if this is the same ham I need for the recipe. Yet some posts here seem to say that yes, indeed, the asian markets in CA carry something very close to country ham.
I have a LOT of questions:
1) Is country ham the same thing as virginia ham? The internet and another post here suggests it is.
2) Are there cooked v. uncooked versions of country ham? Is one synonymous with "country ham"? i.e. is country ham as called for in recipes typically cooked?
3) How do I know which type (cooked or uncooked) I need for this particular recipe?
4) And what I really want to know is this: What did I buy and is this what I need for my egg recipe?
Cool!! Thanks everyone! I guess I'll give it a shot this holiday weekend and see how I like the taste. And if I do, I'll definitely be ordering from some of the links y'all provided. I *knew* you guys would be able to help me identify what this is and how to work with it! Thanks so much.
What you found is the same as Country ham, albeit maybe not the best you will ever find. It is common in Asian markets as it approximates the flavors of certain asian hams but without that added hassle of FDA/Import laws. You have bought a piece that is fully cured but not cooked. A cooked ham is the additional step folks in the south take to prepare the ham for the table. Your recipe, as I interpret it calls for a thin piece of cured, not cooked ham. Your next step would be to slice and prepare the ham for the recipe right out of the package.
My suggestion is to use what you have for your recipe. Consider it an affordable piece for practice. A good ham, while not as expensive as some European cured hams is still not cheap. Then there is the chance that you will find it is not to your taste in which case you will have a mountain of pungent, salty meat to work through.
Make no mistake, you aren't settling. This is Country ham that you have found.
re: Ernie Diamond
I agree with Ernie. Here in San Francisco many asian markets carry various brands of Virginia (country) hams. They may not be Smithfield, but they are very good quality. What I like is they cut them up with a band saw so you don't need to buy a whole ham if only you need a pound or so for beans and rice.
The Lee brothers recommend Colonel Bill Newsom's Aged Kentucky Country Hams)
in their very outstanding Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook, p. 332
(I would like to try one of these.
But they also recommend - "for a tamer country ham that also has great character" - a ham from S. Wallace Edwards & Sons in Surrey, Virginia.
I am from Virginia and am familiar with the Edwards hams. Excellent. Seriously excellent.
You can get an Edward's small precooked boneless country ham:
which I have purchased MANY times and think are out of this world.
My grandmother, who lived in Northern Virginia, cured hams during the 1920s through 1940s, and sold them. (I have the recipe which is for TONS of meat, rather than pounds.) My mother used to say they were just outstanding. Apparently someone connected with the French Embassy in Washington in the 30s bought one and enjoyed it so much, they had my grandmother send hams to Paris when they returned home - back in the days when you could slap a label on a ham and mail it to France with no problem.
Also, Maryland stuffed hams are pretty spectacular too. (But that's a bit different.)
Good luck - a country ham is a memorable thing.
No holiday or birthday meal is complete without it, I think.
Ham sandwiches, slices of it for dinner, fried for breakfast, bits of it in cooked beans other greens, on rolls, and on those biscuits of course.
Also,country ham salad - my grandmother always made this - is fabulous. (You grind the cooked meat with a meat grinder - whatever is leftover - and then add just a little mayonnaise and sweet pickle relish.)
We've been buying a free range country ham from col. newsom's every year for about four years now, and can't recommend it highly enough. Most country ham that you buy pre-sliced in the store or at restaurants throughout the south is good, if one dimensionally salty. But the difference between these country hams and a newsom's ham is like comparing kraft parmesan with reggiano. The newsom's ham (aged 2 years) has a wonderful gamey, complex, almost chocolatey quality that can only come with age.
We use it mostly as seasoning. It's really a steal, too, as it lasts us 4-5 months every year (if you have room in your fridge!). We got some sliced serrano ham from Edward's as a christmas gift this year, and I can't wait to try it and compare!
I've bought slices like that from 99Ranch. Those look like the less expensive front leg hams ('picnic'). Slices off a rear leg (true ham) probably run a dollar or two more.
You'll find that these pieces are quite salty and dense. Apparently this ham is close to that used in China for seasoning stocks.
For your egg recipe I'd be inclined to finely dice the 1/4 cup, and do a test 'heat and steep' in plain water. Base on that I'd decide whether to use the ham as is with the cream, or whether it needs soaking in plain water first.
Virginia ham is a "generic" form of Smithfield Ham, probably the original salt-cured, mass-marketed country ham. The pigs are raised in Virginia on a diet that includes a lot of peanuts/peanut plant silage. They are generally dry-smoked as well as salt-cured, so this sort of ham could be eaten without additional cooking but generally tastes much, much better when heated through or added into a dish that needs cooking. Slice it thin, as you would a prosciutto.
I can't tell from the pix if that is country ham or not. Country hams are very dense, rich, and salty. A taste of heaven. Virginia hams are usually country ham. Every region in the South has its own way to cure a ham, and their own regulations on what makes a country ham.
Country hams are sold cooked and uncooked. Often uncooked is sold sliced and you fry it. If it is a whole ham it takes close to a week to prepare and cook the ham. Only us Southern Belles try this. Ham hocks are used to with cook beans, cabbage.
Most recipes call for cooked Country ham. Think of it as Southern proscuitto sp? when you cook with it. I looked at the recipe, this is for cooked ham.
if you want the best country ham, you need to order from Broadbent Hams in Ky. They are www.broadbenthams.com
The site shows several types of ham. You want the traditional country ham, cooked and sliced. They are hard to slice because they are so dense. I would suggest you call them and they will answer your questions. The ladies are very helpful. They are on Central Standard Time, or as we say in the South, slow time.
Hope this helps you some.
Surely you can get jamon in LA?
Janet is right, you should think of country ham as Southern prosciutto, because it's used as a flavoring agent or in tiny, paper-thin slices, like Spanish jamon or Italian prosciutto. If you can't get ahold of country ham, you might buy some jamon or prosciutto from a local Spanish or Italian butcher to try. Bein's how I live in Kentucky, I use country ham in place of jamon and prosciutto which are, for me, much more difficult to find.
The deceptive thing about "Virginia ham" is that there are brands of lunchmeat-type ham that go by similar names. Smithfield brand also sells the chopped processed kind of lunchmeat ham, which is definitely not what you want.