the appetizer:

This is an excerpt from the About Ham article in the new Joy of Cooking cookbook. Not only does the Baked Ham recipe from Joy of Cooking refer to it, but this article is jam-packed with additional tips on cooking ham.



About Ham

Someone once defined eternity as a ham and two people. The definition probably dates from the days when the term ham applied only to the small mountain of meat we now call a whole ham, which is technically the entire back leg portion of the hog, cured or smoked. Fresh ham is a hind leg that has not been smoked or cured. It is treated as a pork roast. Today the term "ham" is used for a variety of pork cuts from the back leg or the front shoulder that have been processed through salt-curing and sometimes smoking and aging.

Hams are usually labeled "partially cooked" or "fully cooked." Whichever you buy, follow the instructions on the label scrupulously. Partially cooked hams—sometimes labeled "cook before eating"—need to be roasted to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. Fully cooked hams—also called "ready to eat" or "ready to serve"—can be eaten as is, with no further preparation, but they will taste better and have a more appealing presentation if baked and glazed, as in Baked Ham, with an internal temperature of 140 degrees to 145 degrees F.

Although most hams in this country are smoked, you may also find milder, less expensive hams that have been precooked by other methods. Heavy cold-smoking is used for expensive specialty hams, such as the domestic Smithfield and the European Westphalian. This process does not cook the ham but does destroy microorganisms, and also dries and flavors the meat, resulting in the characteristic firm texture of the top-quality hams. Cold-smoked hams are drier, with a deeper color and richer flavor, owing to the lengthy aging process; they are often enjoyed sliced paper-thin and eaten raw.

Both partially and fully cooked hams come in several sizes and shapes. A whole ham, a 10- to 15-pound hind leg of pork with the bone intact, is the most flavorful and least wasteful cut. It will serve 20 to 30 people generously, probably with leftovers. The best have a short plump shape, with a stubby rather than elongated shank, or pointed end. For smaller meals, you can buy a section of a whole ham, either the rounded part called the rump half or butt portion, which is the upper thigh of the animal, or the lower shank half. The rump half is somewhat more meaty but relatively difficult to carve. Either section can weigh from 4 to 7 pounds—enough to serve 10 to 12 people. Smaller steaks and ham roasts are also available cut from the center of the leg. These center ham slices or roasts generally weigh under 2 pounds and are quick to cook and serve; see Broiled Ham Steak, 507.

Spiral-cut hams are fully cooked cured hams that are presliced so that they hold together for a dramatic presentation but are very easy to serve. Besides the typical ham from the hind leg, there are other bone-in hams that tend to cost less while providing excellent taste. A picnic ham is the smoked arm section of the shoulder. Although flavorful, it is slightly tougher than ham from the hind leg. Because it contains more fat, bone, and skin in proportion to lean meat, you should figure on almost a pound of picnic ham per serving. Another shoulder ham, known as Boston butt, cottage ham, or daisy ham, comes from the Boston-style shoulder, and although tender and tasty, it may be quite fatty. A long narrow piece will usually serve 3 or 4 people. Cut into slices, it makes a delicious alternative to bacon. It may be broiled, sauteed, roasted, or simmered.

Fully cooked hams are available in many boneless forms: whole, in halves, or in chunks of various sizes. Such hams are meant to be eaten sliced for sandwiches. The deli hams found thus packaged are made with lean cured meat with most of the external fat removed and may contain added water and phosphates. The best contain no added water or other ingredients and are simply labeled "ham." Others, in descending order of quality, are "ham with natural juices," "ham with water added," and "ham-and-water product."

The wide assortment of canned hams offers the instant convenience one needs when the house is suddenly flooded with unexpected guests. When you buy canned hams, check the label for perishability and suggested refrigeration. Most larger canned hams must be kept under refrigeration before being opened and can be stored thus for a few months. Some smaller canned hams can be stored without refrigeration...

(This is an extract from a longer article in the book)


Buy the Book!


Joy of Cooking
75th Anniversary Edition–2006
by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker
Hardcover, 1152 pages, $30.00
ISBN: 0-7432-4626-8
Article reprinted by permission.


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