If you’re like me, you could eat ham pretty much any time and any old way. I’m not even picky about the quality – when I was a vegetarian, I still ate the really cheap ham because I figured it was mostly just ham-flavored water product (just one of my many vegetarian loopholes). I’ve had a taste of most of the world’s best hams – from Iberco to Benton to Parma – though I’d love to sample the Chinese varieties and have yet to try true Austrian Speck.
I also enjoy preparing ham at home (though less is usually more) – it is a resilient and helpful culinary substance that translates across cultures, mealtimes, textural impulses, and flavor profiles – and I almost always have it on hand. Here’s a few ideas and a recipe or two to kickstart your ham frenzy.
1. Burnt Ham Ends: Take a small ham (a partial picnic ham works great for this) and cut it up into uneven chunks. Toss the chunks in a mixture of molasses, tomato paste, apple cider vinegar, and black pepper and roast in a 350 degree oven for up to 2 hours. The chunks will become blackened on the outside and stay moist and hammy on the inside. Eat with large portions of cheesy potatoes (a Minnesota staple involving frozen hashbrowns and cheese aplenty).
2. Ham Shred: Like the above, this one involves annihilation. Braise the ham for 4 hours at 300 degrees, covered, with the liquid of your choice (ham or pork stock is nice and subtle). Take the lid off and using two forks shred the meat (it should be extremely yielding at this point). The shreddy meat should soak up all the residual fat and liquid. Tong up mountains of ham shred onto the platform of your choice: hamburger buns with mustard and Swiss; bowls of rice and furikake, tortillas with pineapple salsa; or large portions of cheesy potatoes are all suitable candidates.
3. Ham-n-Ramen: Keep it simple with your favorite instant variety or make your own, but garnish with perfect strips of thick-cut ham rectangles that have been marinated for an hour or so in miso paste and soy sauce and then seared until dark and irresistible. Bonus points for garnishing with a coddled egg or a dollop of cheesy potatoes. You’ve never had a cheese element in your Ramen? Neither have I. I bet it’s good.
4. Double-Smoked Ham: This is a scam that I see sometimes – a business will advertise their ham or bacon as “double-smoked,” but it’s really just pre-cooked stuff a company will purchase and then run it through their own smoker to claim it as their’s. All the hard work of curing, resting, and cooking has already been accomplished, but the company gets to slap a sticker on it and profit off some unnamed smokehouse’s work. And they charge you more for this ruse. Might I suggest you DYI this scheme and double smoke your own damn ham? Simply fire up your charcoal grill (preferably with hardwood, but you can use hardwood charcoal if you prefer), plop the ham on the grate, cover, and let her rip. Greg Conley, the Grill Zsar of Superior Street, has a more technical set of instructions:
For charcoal grill: Use lump charcoal, charcoal briquets, or ideally, a combination of the two. You don’t need to use a lot of fuel, as you don’t want it to get particularly hot. Once the coals are ready to go, dump or shove them all to one side. Remember, you can always add more fuel as needed. The idea is that you go at a pretty low temperature (200-250 degrees Farenheit is ideal) for as long as possible without drying out the ham. A cast iron pan of water can be added to the grill next to the coals, which will help regulate the temperature and also keep humidity on the meat. Once you have your coals situated, wrap the bottom of the ham with foil and place it on the opposite side from the coals. You will need to check the temp to make sure the ham is not scorching. If it is getting scorched, you may need to remove some coals. When the ham is placed and the coals are regulated, you will want to place some soaked wood chips, moist sawdust or green wood (maple, any fruit wood, hickory, mesquite) directly on the hot coals. You will then want to just crack the bottom and top vents on the grill so that you have minimal oxygen going over the coals. Your soaked wood should start to smolder, and you will see white smoke billowing out from the vents and lids. From there, give it at least an hour on the grill (you can use an internal thermometer if you want the ham to be warmed up and served immediately) or more based on how smoky you want it. You’ll need to replenish your soaked or green wood every 15-30 minutes or so, depending on how quickly the smoke is depleted. You can go as long as you want as long as the heat is regulated and how much fuel and green or soaked wood you have.
For the gas grill: Most gas grills have at least two burners, often situated side by side with separate controls. The method for using your gas grill to smoke ham is the same as using a charcoal grill, except MUCH EASIER. In this case, rather than shove coals to the side, you just light one burner on one side and put the ham on the opposite side. Everything else is the same.
5. Easter Ham, Perfected: I like this particularly with our Smokehouse Berkshire Ham.
Set a half ham face down on a rack in a large roasting pan, and score the outside with a sharp knife in a diamond pattern. Stud the diamond points with cloves for an old-fashioned come-hither ham look.
Pour enough beer (lager) into the bottom of the pan so that it is about an inch high. Take two sticks of lemongrass and cut them into three-inch lengths. Toss them in. Cut three inches of fresh, peeled ginger into 1/2-inch chunks and add them to the mix. Slice up 2-3 shallots and have them follow suit. Cover the whole shebang in foil and place it in a 325 degree oven for about 70 minutes (for a 7 pound ham).
After the initial bake, take the ham out, remove the foil, and glaze the ham with a mixture of the following:
- 1½ teaspoons dry mustard powder
- 1/2 cup clover honey
- ¼ cup xiaoxing wine
The mixture will be runny, so scoring the ham at the beginning will really help capture it. Put the uncovered ham in the oven for another 20 minutes or so, or until nicely colored. Voila: a really tasty ham is made even tastier! Serve with cheesy potatoes, miso-glazed carrots, or nothing at all.