I ham what I ham

Mar. 19, 2013 @ 08:23 AM

My mom takes on way too much.

I forget it sometimes, but she’s not young.  She gets around pretty well for somebody who went to kindergarten with Galileo, though.

Other than Thanksgiving, all holiday meals are at Mom and Dad’s.

Most everybody helps out, but the bulk of buying, cooking, decorating and cleaning falls squarely on her shoulders.

On Christmas Eve, and Easter dinner, ham is on the menu.  Growing up, it came swathed in tear-drop shaped armor. 

You guessed it -- canned ham.

After many years, a family consensus was reached.

The only thing canned ham was really good for is my father’s super-delicious and easy ham salad of finely chopped ham, grated onion, sweet pickle relish and mayo.

After the revelation of our antipathy, holiday ham was purchased from specialty stores in strip malls.

They sell yummy ham, and it really should be, ’cause the quest to get one’s mitts on those fragrant porkers is not for the ambivalent or faint of heart.

You don’t just walk up to the counter on Dec. 23, and grab one.

Oh no, my friend.  You must first make a reservation four weeks to 14 years in advance.  You’re given a day and time on which you’re permitted to return for pickup.

Then there’s a new, special kind of hell awaiting you.

Upon arrival, you might actually make it into the parking lot.

But, probably not.

Consider yourself lucky if while you’re in line, the seasons don’t change, because, Sweetie, you are but one car-ensconced seeker among hundreds desirous of a bespoke ham.

Then, if they haven’t run out of piggies, and you haven’t run out of gas or life force, possession is taken of a tasty, spiral-sliced, honey-drenched centerpiece.

And all for the low, low price of one hundred dollars.

I usually make some dessert, and maybe a side dish.  I also usually spend a while in the kitchen at Mom’s before eating, helping to finish the meal and get it on the table.

But I wanted to take a larger load off Mom.  When I heard the chilling tales of ham procurement, I saw a chance to end her ritual torture and mugging.

Like so many times before, Food Network’s Alton Brown came to my rescue.  He had a ham show which spent 30 minutes demystifying an entree that can seem pretty darn intimidating.  Believe it, because I was pretty darn intimidated.

He explained the type of ham needed, and a bit of information about it. 

A country ham won’t work here.  That’s the dry, salty, muslin-wrapped ham that is better in small doses.   Think Italian Prosciutto, Tyrolean Speck or Serrano from Spain.  These are great for wrapping around a piece of asparagus, or shaved onto pizza.

What’s needed is a city, or wet-cured ham.  And the best come from a farm, not a factory.  The fewer ingredients on that label, the better the meat.  The best thing to read is, “ham in its own natural juices”.

Find a reputable butcher.  The folks at King’s Red and White (305 E. Club Blvd., Durham) took me in hand, and provided me with something called a Daisyfield.  It usually runs about $1.99 a pound.  I call (919-220-2192) a week or so before it’s needed to order one and talk to Regina about this year's flavor. 

Including glaze ingredients, I can make a showstopper for 35-$45.

I used Alton’s procedure as a guide, and developed my own recipe.  It's become a holiday tradition, and folks look forward to it. 

It’s really culinary fraud; a delicious showpiece that’s not hard at all.

Debbie’s Holiday Ham

Takes 5-8 hours (approx.)

For Glaze:

3 cups jelly, jam or marmalade, warmed and strained

2-3 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

2 bay leaves

1 & 1/4  teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder

¼ teaspoon fresh cracked pepper

Combine ingredients and simmer on low until it has reduced to thick, sticky syrup.  Cool.  This may be made days in advance.

4 cups chopped nuts.*Match nuts to glaze, peach/peanut, orange/pecan, cherry/almond etc.

1/2 country ham, shank or butt end

Equipment needed:

Large roasting pan

½ clean bath towel, or whole kitchen towel

Very sharp knife for cutting through skin


Pastry brush

Preheat oven to 250F.

Line pan bottom with towel.  Clean  and dry ham.  Cut through skin and fat only in diamond pattern.  Place ham, cut side down, into towel-covered roasting pan.  Insert probe thermometer set to 120F,, away from bone.

Cover tightly with foil, and bake until temp.

Remove from oven, and remove foil.  Set oven to 325F. or use low-temp broiler.  Using tongs, remove skin and thick pieces of fat.

Firmly brush on thick layer of glaze.  Press layer of nuts evenly over ham.  Insert probe into new spot for 135F. and return to oven.

When temp's reached, check to see that exterior looks toasted.  If not, under broiler, toast damp spots.

Remove from oven and pan.  Allow to rest, lightly covered for thirty minutes. 

Serve hot or cold.

The only drawback to possessing this knowledge is that when you show up with this bad boy, you will become perpetual bearer of the ham.

Thanks for your time.