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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 7, 2004

At Easter buffet, the ham is the star

 •  Ham goes with cheese and cherries and thyme
 •  How to prepare it
 •  How much to buy

By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor

A glazed spiral-cut ham garnished with small red apples and cherries can serve as the centerpiece of an Easter meal.

Photos courtesy of otherwhitemeat.com

Some country-style hams are sold pre-soaked and pre-simmered and only need reheating.
Ham will be the centerpiece of the Easter meal in more than half of American households, according to a National Pork Board survey.

Last year, through a series of misunderstandings, my family ended up with two Costco bone-in spiral-cut hams at one meal. In subsequent days, my husband and I learned the truth of Dorothy Parker's clever sally: "Eternity is two people and a ham." My experience was typical of Americans who have been rediscovering better quality hams.

Taste-testing has shown that bone-in hams are generally more moist and flavorful. But bone-in hams fell out of favor because of the skill required to carve them.

Pork producers say the wide distribution of spiral-cut hams — which occurred after one particular company lost the exclusive patent — has drawn people back to bone-in hams. Furthermore, spiral-cut hams are of higher quality because the cutters don't work properly if the meat is pumped too full of water, a common practice in commercial ham production. Expect to pay a little more for a spiral-cut ham, however.

Most of us will be eating processed hams; country hams are a whole different ball game (see accompanying story).

The key to retaining the quality of a good processed ham is keeping it moist. Fully cooked hams are meant to be served at room temperature; reheating dries them. A glaze can help retain moisture as can tenting the ham while it cooks. If you're carving the ham yourself, slice only enough to serve at one time; ham retains its moisture better when not sliced.

To prevent waste from ham overload, buy only enough ham for the main meal and a day or two of leftovers. Use ham in sandwiches or other ways that don't require reheating. Leftover ham can be frozen, but this, too, dries it out. Ham can be chopped fine or ground up and frozen in small packages for use in flavoring soups, omelets and other dishes.

• • •

Ham goes with cheese and cherries and thyme

A National Pork Board survey found that about one-third of Americans are likely to celebrate Easter with a family brunch, about half of the respondents share a midday "dinner" and the most of the rest have an evening meal — at which ham is likely to be featured.

Here are recipes from the National Pork Board suitable for each of these meals.

Breakfast Ham Focaccia

  • 1 (12-inch) round or square focaccia (Italian flat bread), split horizontally
  • 3/4 cup mascarpone cheese (3 ounces)
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped bottled roasted red sweet peppers
  • 2 teaspoons snipped fresh rosemary
  • 6 eggs
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 16 slices cooked ham, thinly sliced
  • 1 recipe asiago cheese sauce (see below)
  • Snipped fresh rosemary or parsley (optional)

Preheat broiler. Broil cut sides of focaccia until toasted. Remove from broiler.

In a small bowl, combine mascarpone cheese, roasted peppers and rosemary. Spread some of the mascarpone mixture on each half of the focaccia. Cut each half of the focaccia into 4 wedges or squares.

With a whisk or fork, in a medium bowl, beat eggs, water, salt and pepper together. In a 10-inch skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Pour egg mixture into skillet. Cook, without stirring, until mixture begins to set. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes more or until eggs are cooked through but still moist, lifting and folding often to assure eggs cook evenly. Remove from heat; keep warm.

To assemble focaccia, broil cheese-topped wedges or squares for 2 minutes. Top each with 2 slices of ham and some of the scrambled-egg mixture. Spoon some of the asiago cheese sauce over each wedge or square. If desired, garnish with snipped rosemary or parsley. Serves 4.

Asiago cheese sauce: In a small saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon butter over medium heat. Stir in 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper. Stir in 1 cup half-and-half or light cream. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened. Cook and stir for 1 minute more. Stir in 1/8 cup grated asiago cheese until melted. Makes about 1 1/4 cups sauce.

Per serving: Calories, 1,035; fat, 50 g; saturated fat, 23 g; cholesterol, 432 mg; sodium, 1,766 mg; carbohydrates, 101 g; protein, 45 g; fiber, 4 g.

Glazed Ham with Dried-cherry

  • Caramelized Onions
  • 3 pound cooked boneless ham
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon stone-ground mustard
  • 1 teaspoon cider vinegar
  • 5 medium onions, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced (about 5 cups)
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup dried tart cherries
  • 1/3 cup cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/4 cup almonds, sliced or slivered and toasted

Heat oven to 325 degrees. Place ham on rack in shallow baking pan. Roast 45 minutes to 1 hour or until a meat thermometer registers 140 degrees (about 15 to 18 minutes per pound).

Meanwhile, for glaze, in a small bowl combine 2 tablespoons honey, 1 teaspoon cider vinegar and 1 tablespoon mustard. Brush ham with glaze during the last 5 minutes of baking.

Dried-cherry caramelized onions: To caramelize onions, cook onions in a covered dutch oven in hot butter over medium heat for 12 to 15 minutes or until onions are just tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in 1/2 cup dried cherries, ¡ cup cider vinegar,

2 tablespoons honey and 1/2 teaspoon cardamom. Simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Stir in toasted almonds. Slice ham; serve with onion mixture.

Serves 10.

Per serving: calories, 2,771; fat, 10 g; saturated fat, 4 g; cholesterol, 43 mg; sodium, 1,337 mg; carbohydrates, 20 g; protein, 26 g; fiber, 2 g.

Spiral-cut Ham with Slow-roasted Asparagus and Lemon-Thyme Sauce

  • 7 to 8 pound spiral-cut, bone-in, cooked ham
  • 2 1/2 pounds fresh asparagus
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons chicken bouillon granules
  • 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 1 cup lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon finely shredded lemon peel
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 2 tablespoons snipped fresh thyme or parsley

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place ham on rack in a shallow baking pan. Cover pan tightly with foil. Roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest portion (not touching bone) registers 135 degrees (about 15 minutes per pound).

Meanwhile, remove and discard woody stems from asparagus spears. Arrange asparagus in a 15-by-10-by-2-inch baking pan. Drizzle with cooking oil. Sprinkle with lemon pepper seasoning. When ham reaches 135 degrees, add asparagus to oven. Roast about 30 minutes more or until asparagus is tender and ham registers 140 degrees.

For lemon sauce, in a 1¥-quart saucepan combine cornstarch, sugar, bouillon granules and pepper. Stir in water, lemon juice and lemon peel. Bring to boil; reduce heat. Cook and stir until mixture is bubbly. Cook for 2 minutes more. Stir in butter and snipped thyme or parsley.

Slice ham. Serve with asparagus and lemon sauce. (Use remaining ham for sandwiches or another recipe.) Serves 10 to 12.

Per serving: Calories, 570; fat, 36g; saturated fat, 13g; cholesterol, 131 mg; sodium, 3,188 mg; carbohydrates, 14 g; protein, 47 g; fiber, 2 g.

A ham for all reasons

Ham: The hind leg of a pig cured (salted or brined) and/or smoked.

Country ham: Old-style dry-cured hams from Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee or North Carolina. Rubbed with a curing mixture — salt, and possibly sugar, spices or saltpeter (potassium nitrate, a preservative) — then cured at low temperatures for five or more weeks and aged at a higher temperature for several months. Often smoked with hickory, pine or fruit woods. Long-aged country ham must be soaked in water 24-48 hours to remove salt, then slowly simmered and finished in the oven. The shorter the cure, the less salty the flavor, but also the less complex and appealing to connoisseurs. Some hams are sold pre-soaked and simmered and just need re-heating. Available by mail-order; sizes range from 11 to 17 pounds and prices begin at about $40, plus shipping.

Processed ham: Common supermarket hams, brined (by soaking in a salt-sugar solution, or, more commonly, injecting or pumping mixture through meat); smoke flavor is added with brine or during cooking. Most are sold fully cooked. May be bone-in, semi-boned or boneless; whole or half (butt or shank piece). Key to quality: the less added water the better. Look for "ham" (no water added) or "ham with natural juices." Avoid "ham — water added" or "ham and water product."

Boneless ham: Ham that has been boned and the pieces reshaped into a loaf; this necessarily affects quality, requiring pressure and handling to create the shape and added water to fill it out.

Spiral-cut ham: Fully cooked hams cut by a special saw that produces an even, thin slice by circling around the bone.

Sources: Cook's Illustrated. Sam Gugino/Samcooks.com. National Country Ham Assn.

• • •

How to prepare it

Fully-cooked processed ham: Most manufacturers of fully-cooked hams suggest serving at room temperature and not reheating the meat because of the tendency of ham, especially pre-sliced boneless ham, to dry out. If you must warm it, preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place the ham in a baking pan and tent with heavy-duty foil. Heat 10 minutes to the pound or until internal temperature reaches 110 degrees. A glaze slathered over the ham part way through reheating can help retain moisture.

Partially cooked processed ham: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the ham in a baking pan and tent with heavy-duty foil. Heat 20 minutes to the pound or until internal temperature reaches 140 degrees. Glaze in the last 15-30 minutes of cooking, if desired.

Country ham: If someone has presented you with a true, dry-cured country ham, read the package directions carefully. It's important to know whether the cure is very salty, or sweet and mild. The longest-cured hams are so salty that they must be immersed in cool water for 24 to 48 hours, with the water changed two or three times. Then they are simmered, immersed in water (or a blend of water and apple juice or apple cider or a blend of water, vinegar and brown sugar — your choice), 20 minutes to the pound. Connoisseurs say there's nothing like a country ham for intense, aged flavor.

If you are planning to mail-order a country ham for Easter, you must do it today specifying 2nd day air delivery (being aware that the shipping might cost as much as the ham!). Select a ham that's been pre-boiled and simmered because you won't have time to do it yourself. Helpful sites: www.countryham.org; www.atasteofkentucky.com; www.apptrav.com. For information on hams from Smithfield, Va., plug "Smithfield" into a search engine — you'll get hits from numerous producers of this classic country ham, which can only be produced within the environs of that historic town.

• • •

How much to buy

For a bone-in ham, plan at least 3/4 pound per person. For boneless ham, 1/4 pound per person is standard.

For hams by size:

  • A 7-8 pound ham serves eight to 10 as dinner entrée, 10 to 16 on a buffet.
  • An 8-10 pound ham serves 10 to 16 as dinner entrée, 18 to 21 on a buffet.
  • A 14-15 pound ham serves 20 to 28 as dinner entrée, 33 to 40 on a buffet.