Easter ham is a great Southern tradition

April 16, 2014 

The Southern tradition of serving ham at Easter is one of convenience. In the early days, the hams that were salted, smoked and dried in the fall were just ready to be eaten when the spring-time holiday arrived.

But that was in the day when your only choices were fresh ham from the fall slaughter and cured ham. Those days are long gone and now ham is available all year long.

Curing ham is a centuries-old method of keeping ham from spoiling. The original versions had to be pretty grim; dried to the point of being jerky and intensely smoky or salty. With countless seasons of practice, curing ham has become an art form. And not all cured hams are created equal, and the better ones come a price.

Cured ham is made and served around the world. American Smithfield ham is the most well known here, but almost everyone would also be familiar with the famed hams of Italy; prosciutto de Parma and Speck. The German version, Schwarzwalder Schinken, or Black Forrest ham, has been so corrupted in this country as to be almost unrecognizable when compared with the real hams in Germany. They are black from smoking, fragrant, tender and delicious when thin sliced beyond any words I can find. Spanish Serrano ham is also world class.

All this information about cured hams, however, should not crowd out thoughts of a delicious fresh or pre-cooked ham. A fresh ham will take as long as five hours to cook, a pre-cooked ham about half that time. If you are a purest go for the fresh ham, but if time is a constraint, the pre-cooked will do just fine.

Just one more note on ham. The amount of water in a ham determines the grade. A ham labeled just "ham" is the highest grade, next is "ham water added," followed by "ham and water product."

BAKED HAM

The recipe for a fully cooked ham and a fresh ham is the same, only the fresh ham will have to be cooked for about twice as long. A rule of thumb is a fresh ham is ready when the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees. A pre-cooked ham should be heated to 120 degrees.

6-7 pound fully cooked ham

2-3 cups fresh mango

1-2 cups mango juice

3/4 cup light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh ginger

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Take the ham out of the refrigerator and let come almost to room temperature. Make sure to pat it dry if it is moist. Using a sharp knife, score the skin of the ham in a criss-cross pattern. Place the ham in a deep pot, add the mango juice, cover with foil and bake for about 2 hours (or

15 minutes per pound). When it is ready at this stage the internal temperature should be 100 degrees. Combine the fresh mango, brown sugar, cloves and ginger and simmer until it becomes a thick glaze. Remove the ham from the oven and increase the temperature to 425 degrees. Now brush the glaze on thickly all over the ham and place back in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until is golden brown. Remove from the oven and let rest at least 20 minutes before serving.

HAM AND ASPARAGUS

6-8 slices of smoked or fresh cooked ham

24-36 asparagus spears

1/2 to 1 cup hollandaise sauce (see recipe below)

Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Sauté the slices of ham until they start to brown and become fragrant. Remove the tough ends of the asparagus and steam until tender. Please do not overcook them. Place 2-3 asparagus spears on each slice of ham, fold over and place in an oven proof pan. Top with hollandaise sauce and the Parmigiano-Reggiano and run under a hot broiler until bubble and slightly brown. Serve immediately.

HOLLANDAISE SAUCE

1 cup butter, clarified is best

4 farm fresh egg yolks

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 pinch salt

1 small pinch cayenne optional

Using a double broiler or bain Marie, add just enough water into the pan to float the smaller, inner container. Let the eggs come to room temperature. Place the bain Marie on the stove top over low-medium heat. Never, never let the water boil. Add the egg yolks and gently whisk. As soon as the start to thicken add 1/6 of the butter and whisk slowly until the butter melts. Continue the process until all the butter is gone and the sauce is thick. Add the lemon juice and a pinch of salt. This sauce will keep over a very low flame, but be very careful not to "cook" and so congeal it, then all is lost.

ROWDY'S BEST HAM SANDWICH

Quantities for this sandwich depend only on how loaded you want your sandwich to be.

Thin sliced ham

Onion rolls

German mustard

Sauerkraut

American cheddar cheese

Sauté the ham until well browned, then set aside. Toast the onion rolls under a hot broiler. Slather each roll with German mustard, load with ham and sauerkraut, top with cheese and melt under the broiler. Serve with a good, cold locally brewed beer.

Bradenton Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service