Your guide to the best baked ham for Easter
If Thanksgiving is turkey and Christmas is beef, Easter is all about the ham.
But which ham? Go to the meat department of any supermarket before Easter, and you’re confronted with decisions.
Bone-in, semi-boneless, boneless? Spiral-cut or uncut? Country ham or city ham?
Then there are the labels: One says “ham,” one says “ham with natural juices.” And what’s all this about “water added”?
Ham is a simple choice for a spring meal. A cured ham doesn’t even need to be cooked, although it’s simple to do and adds a lot of flavor. Prices for spiral-cut hams were as low as $1.78 a pound at WalMart for spiral-cut, smoked Smithfield hams. Still, there are tricks to picking a good ham. Knowing a little about what you’re buying can make it easier. Kathleen Purvis
What is it?
Ham: All ham comes from the back leg of the pig and is either wet- or dry-cured. Dry-cured is the very salty country ham. Wet-cured – sometimes nicknamed “city ham” – means it has been brined or injected with a curing solution. Either kind may be smoked, but it doesn’t have to be.
Fresh ham: An uncured, or raw, leg of pork. It can be difficult to find one. Stores usually don’t get them in until right before Easter. It’s a good idea to contact the meat department of your store and ask. Some stores will only sell them whole – a major undertaking at 14 to 20 pounds. Others will cut them in half for sale. If you find a half, try to get the shank. It only has a single center bone and is easier to carve than the rump, which has two bones.
Bone-in vs. boneless: Bone-in hams look the most impressive on a holiday table, and you end up with the bone for soup. But boneless hams are easy to carve and serve. Figure 2 to 3 servings per pound for bone-in ham and 4 to 5 servings per pound for boneless ham.
Spiral-cut: These pre-cut hams are so popular, they dominate the meat cases. While they are simple to prepare, there are some tricks to achieve good results. Because they’re already cut, they can lose liquid. If you don’t reheat them carefully, they get dry. Most come with a package of glaze, but your own will taste better.
Picnic ham: Not a ham at all, but the lower section of the front leg. You often find smoked versions, ready to reheat.
What does the label mean?
Ham: If it just says “ham,” it can only be ham, with nothing added.
Ham With Natural Juices: It’s cured or even injected, but it has no water added. Generally, these hams will cost more, but they’ll have better texture and flavor, particularly for baking and glazing.
Ham With Water Added: This is a less-expensive option. You often find it sold in a single slice as a ham steak, but a whole one can be glazed and thinly sliced.
Ham and Water Product: Sometimes called deli ham or tavern ham. This is the least expensive. It’s best served cold and thinly sliced. If it’s warmed, it can have a spongy texture.
Smoked ham: Make sure it says “naturally smoked.” Otherwise, it was injected with smoke flavoring.
The rest of the world loves ham, too. These are gourmet products that bring a premium price and are sold in delis and gourmet shops. They’re best used as an ingredient in recipes that let their flavor stand out.
Westphalian: From pigs raised on acorns in the Westphalia Forest in Germany. Cured, then smoked over beechwood and juniper branches.
Black Forest: Also a German ham with a lightly smoky flavor.
Parma: The original prosciutto, produced in Parma, Italy; it should be labeled “Prosciutto di Parma.” It’s dry-cured and air-dried. It’s served thinly sliced and raw.
Jamon: Ham is taken very seriously in Spain, and it falls in two categories. Jamon serrano is a very dry cured ham made in the mountains. Iberico is Iberian ham made from special pigs raised on a diet of acorns. Both are shaved thin and served raw.
Handling that ham
Leftover cooked ham will keep 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator. Wet-cured ham can get mushy if frozen, but that’s better than wasting it. Dice or cube leftover ham and use it in casseroles and soups. Dry-cured hams will keep years before they’re cut. Once you cut them, you can wrap them well and refrigerate them for months.
suppers and buffets with Bill & Sheila
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