Gulf Coast Cooking

Ham is a welcome favorite on the Easter table

Spring was once the season for dry cured hams. In the old days, hams were prepared and started the curing process in the fall and were just ready as winter finally broke. Yep, it takes that long for the salt, sugar and potassium nitrate to remove the moisture from the ham,

The lucky coincidence of timing made them a favorite on Easter tables.

Another method that doesn't take so long, but produces a different result, is to brine and smoke a ham. It all depends on the size of the ham, but the ham will rest in the brine from seven to 10 days and then a 20-pound ham might be smoked for 14 hours or more.

Lots of good things are rendered from a leg of pork, whether it is dry-cured or wet-cured. Some of the best are Italian prosciutto de Parma, German speck and Schwarzwald Schinken, Spanish Serrano and of course, American-style country ham. But ham doesn't have to be salted and smoked to be good to eat, there are plenty of other methods of producing ham that you will find at the grocery store. Fresh hams that have been baked are a prize for any table, and the deli will have a few more from which to choose as well.

ROASTED FRESH HAM

Very few things are as good as a freshly roasted ham. Your house will become fragrant with the smell as it cooks. Your family will hang around the kitchen wanting a taste, and your neighbors just might stop by unexpectedly. Serve the roasted ham as the main course for any special meal, slice the leftover for sandwiches, and make sure to simmer the leftover ham bone for a stock. Freeze the stock in an ice cube tray for easy use later.

1 10-pound fresh ham, bone in

1 cup apple juice

1/2 cup of your favorite mustard

2/3 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup local honey or sorghum molasses

Preheat oven to 325 F. Place the ham in a large oven-proof pan, pour the apple juice over and seal as tightly as you can with tin foil. Use a double layer if you like. Bake for almost four hours, test with a thermometer that should read 145 f. Crank the oven up to 375 f. Discard the liquid in the pan, and the foil, and cut off any excess rind or fat, but don't remove all of it. Using a sharp knife, make a crosshatch pattern in the ham, smear on the mustard, and drizzle on the honey of sorghum. Bake for about 30 minutes, uncovered and make sure to baste a few times. Let it cool before slicing, but for effect, slice at the table to impress your friends with your knife skills.

HAM AND BISCUIT

This delicious combination is so popular you can find it ready made at every grocery store, convenience store and many gas stations. It's not only delicious, it's handy as a take along food for busy people on the go. But that doesn't mean you can't make your own from scratch and enjoy them in the peace and quiet of your own home.

4 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup lard

2 cups buttermilk

1 cup grated Cheddar

3-6 thin slices ham

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Sift the flour into a large mixing bowl, then

add the baking powder and salt. Cut in the lard until the mixture is fully incorporated. Add the buttermilk and cheese and mix well. On a flowered surface, form the dough into a rectangle, just a bit more than 1-inch thick. Cut into rounds of the size you like, place on a greased baking pan and bake for about 20 minutes or until nicely browned. Slice open, butter as much as you like, add the ham and your done. The ham biscuit is also good with another slice or two of cheese, or an over easy farm fresh egg.

HAM AND PEAS

This is about as old school recipe as you will run into these days. It makes a great side, but is hearty enough to serve as a stew, or if you want to add additional stock, thicken it up a bit and make a soup out of it. Served with the biscuit in the recipe about it is wonderful. Use leftover peas if you like.

2 cups cooked green peas

1 cup large cubes ham

1/2 cup chopped onion

1-2 finely diced cloves of garlic

1 cup vegetable stock

Sauté the ham in a little olive oil until well browned. Add the onions and cook 5 minutes longer, add the garlic and cook 2 minutes longer. Add the stock and simmer for 10 minutes over a low flame. Add the peas, cook just to warm and serve hot.

BEST HAM AND CHEESE SANDWICH

Multiple thin slices of ham work better in this recipe than one thick slice. It gives the sandwich some loft and better texture. Any sliced ham is made better by browning the ham first. Use butter if your diet allows it. Many different types of cheese work on this sandwich, but the best are cheeses that are known for their ability to melt, Gruyere is the most famous, but this great American cheddar also is a winner.

4-6 thin slices ham per sandwich

Lots of Mammoth USA-made yellow cheddar cheese

Whole wheat bread

Garlic mayonnaise, homemade preferred

Butter

Butter the bread and turn on the broiler to preheat. Melt a pad of butter in a pan and cook the ham for about 3-4 minutes. Layer the ham on the bread, add lots of cheese and pop into the broiler to melt. When the cheese is melted, close the sandwich and toast the top piece of bread.

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