Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I'm not dead yet! ..."Bring out your dead" echoes in the background.

We tried our first salt-cured, dry-aged ham this weekend and it was deeee-licious, if I do say so myself. We picked up the hams April 10th, applied the cure on the 12th and left them in the fridge for 42 days, adding salt/ brown sugar rub twice during that time. After we pulled them from the fridge, I soaked them, bagged them, and let the cure equalize in the cool basement, leaving them sit for longer than they should have. Once I got back around to it, I scrubbed them once more and applied the final rub of molasses, cracked pepper, brown sugar, and just a bit of salt. Then I bagged them and wrapped them in muslin to hang down in the larder for several months—about 7 altogether, including the time I ignored them. Hung, they will keep more than a year.

My grannie was born and raised in Virginia, and I used her recipe to cook the ham. Man, would she be mighty pleased!

We unwrapped the ham—don't be surprised if there's mold. This is perfectly normal even for the expensive store-bought Smithfield hams. Think of it like a rind on cheese.

At this point, we soaked the ham in cool water for about 4 hours, scrubbing occasionally to get the mold and the heavy parts of the rub off. This soaking also helps to rehydrate a bit and draw out some of the salt. If you've never had a salt-cured ham—be prepared, they are salty! It's best to begin this part of the process early in the morning, so that there will be plenty of time to cook the ham during the day and overnight.

Place the ham skin-side up in a baking pan large enough to cover at least half with water, preferably the whole ham, though I never have a pan large enough to do this. Preheat the oven to 500° and place the ham in a hot oven for 25-30 minutes. At the end of the cooking time, turn the oven off and leave the ham in the oven for 8 hours.

*Important: do not open the oven during the entire cooking process! (My grannie used to tape a note to the oven door, warning everyone.)

At this point, it should be late in the evening. Turn the oven back on to 500° and bring up to temp. Leave on for 10 minutes, then turn the oven off again, letting the ham sit for another 8 hours overnight. More won't matter—whenever you get up in the morning will be fine.

The skin and layer of fat on top has helped protect the meat from overcooking. Remove both the skin and the fat to reveal the meat below, which will be a nice pink color but have a somewhat dry, flaky consistency when completely cooked. The ham can then be sliced and eaten however you wish and will keep up to 6 weeks in the fridge.

My favorite way to eat country ham is sliced thin and put on a country biscuit with some melted cheddar cheese. Mmmmmm-mmmm! And that's exactly how we ate it Sunday morning, along with some delicious cheese grits. Salt-cured ham also makes tasty sandwiches, and I'll be dicing some to put into recipes calling for salted pork (though I think hunks of salt-cured bacon do better for most of those because they provide a bit of fat) or tasso type ham, but without the cajun flavoring.



great week

karl said...

yum, that ham looks delicious. my favorite scene from that movie is the knights who say nee. i still remember the first time i saw it. i almost burst a gut laughing.

fastgrowtheweeds.com said...

I told Tom I wanted to do this with the ham we get this year from our half-hog share. He thinks I am crazy. (He always thinks I am crazy, though.) Interesting with your 16-hour rehydration braise, though; have to keep that in mind. Good eating, bring on those biscuits! (My favorite line is "It's just a flesh wound." I can't tell you how often I say that when I do something stupid.)

Ren said...

I'm reading this and Sierra is standing behind me exclaiming "oooh, that is DISgusting!" the entire time. I think we'll skip the ham when we visit. But interesting...

sugarcreekfarm said...

Looks like the end result is well worth the time that went into it - yum!

Rachel said...

Oh, that ham looks amazing! I can almost feel it melting in my mouth!

And in regards to your Monty Python reference, I have to give you this link to a video, which you may or may not have already seen (we are still in major Star Wars territory here, and this gave us all such a laugh):


Danielle said...

Thanks to all for the comments! It really is so delicious, though it was a bit intimidating when I started. Curing the bacon was easier because we vacuum sealed it and put in the freezer—not nearly as much at stake.

I really wanted to learn to preserve our own meat, though, and the fact that you still cook a country ham gave me courage.

Ren, since you guys are pretty much vegetarians anyway, I won't take any offense. ;) I do imagine, though, that some day folks may want to know how to preserve meat, so it's good to keep the knowledge alive.

Besides, something like this is way better than the stuff pumped with chemicals in the grocery store! Now, we have our own meat, naturally raised and naturally cured. No nitrites/nitrates, thank you very much.