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Apr 16, 2014 05:30 AM

Fresh Ham - NYT

The glorious fresh ham was a pretty common dish at family gatherings throughout my life, though not so much at Easter where "red ham" was more in keeping with Polish/Eastern European traditions and historical realities. I still think the former is an under-appreciated (and judging by some of the threads I've seen on this Site - under-understood) roast. I was always a big fan of the leftover, cold roast pork, sliced thin, on rye with mayo, lettuce, and tomato for lunch the next day.

So here's to Sifton for writing this piece. Further, here's to Harold Moore and Bruce Weinstein for being on the "right" side of the brining issue.


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  1. Last Sunday's dinner....6 mini fresh hams (hind shanks)

    2 Replies
    1. re: grampart

      That's cool. I can't remember seeing unsmoked hind shanks anywhere around here. I'll have to keep my eyes open now.

      1. re: MGZ

        Here's where I got mine. btw, they are Korabuta pork. At about $8.50 per 24 ounce shank (including shipping) , they're cheaper than steak and much more "special".


    2. Had it every Easter, the Polish side had the cured ham, the Ukrainian side had the fresh ham, always with beet hrin.

      1. That is something I love and wish it were easier to find.

        1. I don't eat pork, but my mother often made roast pork. It wasn't until I was in my 20s (and had gone vegetarian) that I heard someone call this fresh ham. But I have always wondered - is it the same exact thing? It sure seems like it. Growing up it was always just called roast pork.

          7 Replies
          1. re: LulusMom

            I had exactly the same question. I grew up in the UK and if you roast fresh pork you ended up with Roast Pork (including wonderful crackling), and this was true no matter whether it was a shoulder, belly, front or rear leg (I now rub fennel seeds into the slits in the skin before roasting to make an italian version).

            Roast ham was always a piece of pork that had been wet cured and then roasted - the sugar/honey/syrup dressing of the skin studded with cloves to give it the glaze is a classic of roast ham.

            I read the NYT article and it made me even more confused - especially the cooking times. It appeared that the meats were going to be cooked for a really long time. Pork/Ham is quite delicate and should be roasted carefully to retain the moisture.

            1. re: PhilD

              "Separated by a common language", after all.

              1. re: MGZ

                Phil and I are from different continents, I believe.

                1. re: LulusMom

                  Shaw's quip might just as well have been applied only to the US.

                  Kidding aside, the fact is, language evolves, meanings mutate, colloquialisms collect, shorthands supplant, fallacies find footholds. Not much we can do, right? "Ham" isn't the only word with more than one meaning, irregardless of where we hear the "Mother Tongue" spoken.

                  The hind legs of the pig are the cut known as the ham. Traditionally, given the distinct nature of that leg compared to the front - size, consistency of the meat, singular musculature, less fat and collagen - it was the cut that was easiest to cure and preserve. Hence, over time, the preserved meat became nearly synonymous with the cut itself.

                  Differentiating between a cured and an uncured ham then required descriptors. At this point, we're no longer talking just about the cut, but rather what was served at the table (As an aside, who wouldn't want to know if the herring for dinner was pickled, smoked, or fermented). A "fresh" ham was simply a large, uncured, hindquarters and a rather indulgent use of flesh to roast for a meal. A "cured" or "smoked" ham was basically already "cooked" and defined by it's saltiness. For what it's worth, I have also heard the terms "red ham" and "white ham" to distinguish between the two dishes.

                  All of this gets further complicated by modernity. Contemporary curing methods permit any cut of pork (or for that matter, any combination of scraps of pork) to be processed into "ham" without significant time or traditional technique. Moreover, we see marketers labeling the "picnic shoulder" (lower half of the front leg) as "picnic ham" since it has a similar shape to the shank (lower) portion of the ham (to obscure things more, both legs contain a "shank" bone).

                  I realize that I've oversimplified much of the foregoing - leaving out factors like national, regional, and familial influences, no citations, etc. I'm not writing a book and I probably bored half of the readers by the time they got to "irregardless". So, I'll just leave it as this:

                  One can roast any piece of the flesh of the pig and call it "roast pork". It's simply a phrase that describes the preparation and the animal from whence it came. That makes for a fine dinner. However, when one takes the hind leg of a Tamworth and coddles it in a 325 degree oven, one gets to share a "fresh ham" with loved ones at the table. THAT makes for a glorious feast.

                  PhilD - The NYT recipe uses a low temperature oven (300f) to slowly bring the meat to 145f. It is a technique that is quite delicate and will produce a still pink and juicy roast (I could do without the glaze though). Similar approaches are employed for various large cuts - and the topic of many Chowhound discussions.

                  1. re: MGZ

                    Thanks for the insight - makes a lot of sense.

                    One slight detail - in the UK a roast ham is cured before it's cooked but the cure isn't for long enough so it still requires cooking - I suppose a half cure.

                    Reading some of the raw ham cooking comments it seems that some of the joints are semi cured (maybe brined) before cooking. I assume that wouldn't be done that with good pork as the delicate flavour would be lost.....so is the fresh ham approach akin to a British baked ham i.e. very lightly cured before roasting.

                    1. re: PhilD

                      That's a pretty interesting topic in and of itself - the spectrum of brining to curing.* I'll admit my first reaction, likely borne out of growing up in a culture where smoking was an almost essential step in the preservation process, was that partially curing is akin to being "a little bit pregnant". Nevertheless, I do understand the notion and have seen/eaten "red" hams that required additional cooking. Sadly, those were the products of America's industrial food processing and injected with salted water and smoke flavoring - in a way, such "hams" have almost become the "standard" (thus suggesting an even further development in the meaning of the word in everyday usage).

                      Oddly, as I type, I find myself eating a breakfast of the last slices of the leftovers from the Easter ham. It was a true smoked, "city" ham without added water and quite delicious. Still, I find myself wishing that I was eating the "British baked ham" to which you refer.

                      For the most part, that's to simply enjoy, but also to remind myself of texture and flavor enough to better respond. I think that you are pretty much correct in that it might very likely be simply referred to as "brined" since there's no air drying or smoking involved. Likewise, it's not the "salt, pepper, and a sprig of rosemary just before popping it into the oven" roast pork that my Polish grandmothers favored. Once again, there's that idea of spectrum . . .

                      *Not to mention another potential shared language barrier.

                      1. re: MGZ

                        While not directly on point, I always found the following to be one of the more interesting (and appetite whetting) discussions of cured hams I've come across: http://www.cookingissues.com/2010/10/... Plus, I get a kick out of the "Ham Belt" for some reason.

          2. The following is a excerpt from my report of Roasted Whole Fresh Ham from "All About Roasting" by Molly Stevens. We cooked it for our Christmas dinner last year using a fresh organic half leg bone-in ham that weighed 7 pounds.

            "We took the rind off leaving a thin layer of fat which was scored then the entire ham was rubbed with lots salt and black pepper. It was set on a rack in a roasting sheet and refrigerated uncovered for 3 days. To roast, the ham is brought to room temperature for at least an hour. We roasted the ham in a pre-heated 475F oven for 25 minutes then lowered the temp to 325F, poured in 24 ounces Sam Adams Double Agent India Pale Lager and let 'er rip for about 3 1/2 hours when inner temp read 155F.

            "If we ever decide we'd like to roast another fresh ham this is the method I'd use again. The meat was beautiful to look at, tender succulent with a distinct flavor unlike a regular pork tenderloin or shoulder. Not salty at all which was surprising." Plainly, t was the best roast ham we've ever had.