Learning to cook a country ham
Country hams from two different plants. They're wrapped in a
netting and hung. The hams at left are wrapped in paper inside
the netting and the hams under the red roof are just in netting.
The family didn't seem too enthusiastic about turkey this Thanksgiving, so I decided we'd try a country ham.
One reason I chose country ham is that they don't need refrigeration. They are stored at room temperature so no thawing is required. That's a plus when you're planning refrigerator space for a big meal.
I found country hams on sale, not much more expensive than turkeys, and I chose a 17-pounder that I thought might fit into my roasting pan. It was a little too large, so I should have got a 14-or 15-pounder. It worked out all right, though. We just shortened it a little with the meat saw.
I had no idea how country hams were supposed to be cooked, so I looked on the internet and found a great number of recipes. Many of them recommended soaking the ham overnight before cooking it. The purpose of soaking it is to remove some of the salt that was used to cure it.
I set a 5-gallon pickle bucket in the kitchen sink, put the ham in it, and filled it to the brim with water. I changed the water once, but in retrospect, I would recommend changing it several times.
The next morning, Dennis put the ham on to cook. He drained off the water, scrubbed the ham a little with a clean scratchy-pad, and sawed off its skinny end with the meat saw so it would fit.
Then he placed the ham skin-side down in a roaster. He tucked some onions and celery around it, threw in a couple of bay leaves, and added a couple of quarts of water.
I had allowed plenty of time to cook it, and it was done (internal temperature over 160°) a couple of hours before the meal was ready. We just kept it hot in the oven until time to serve it.
I know you're anxious to hear how it turned out. (Of course you are; don't try to deny it!) Well, the ham was good. It was very tender, very juicy, and also very salty. Very Salty. After all, it is salt-cured. That's why I think I should have soaked it longer, or changed the water more, or both.
I will reheat the leftovers in water so a little more of the salt is removed. We really don't need to eat concentrated salt like that. I'll freeze some of it to use as seasoning in soups and stews. No additional salt will be needed!
In case any connoisseurs of country ham read this, this was a Clifty Ham, cured and smoked in Paris, Tennessee, not too far from here.
Country ham is a traditional food here, especially for the holidays, so I'm glad we tried it. However, next Thanksgiving, I think we'll just have a turkey, or if the family wants something different, maybe a pork loin.