Specialties of the House: Ham

Apparently, eating baked ham with black eyed peas and cabbage on New Years is a Southern thing. I never knew that until very recently. However, regardless of the holiday, ham is a great way to feed a lot of people cheap. You can usually get a real ham for between $.99 and $1.99 a pound. What do I mean by real ham? I mean not spiral cut or otherwise heavily modified. Check the label. If it says “ham in natural juice” or “ham, water added”, you’re good. If it says “ham and water product”, that’s lunch meat, not dinner. And make sure it has a bone, since that means less processing (cheaper) and you can use the bone later. You’ll want the shank end if possible since it has less connective tissue and just tastes better to me.

This topic, though, is probably going to piss some of you off because there’s no recipe. Why? Because ham there’s so many ways to make baked ham the way you like it best. And a lot of this is eyeballed rather than measured. Finally, ham is so easy to cook because it’s really already cooked. You’re just reheating it.

Regardless of what additives you’re going with, first thing you have to do is slowly roast the ham and render out some of the excess fat. Put the ham cut-side down in a roasting pan and cut about half an inch (1.5cm) into the skin in a diamond pattern. I use a utility knife or box cutter for this, but you can also use a parrying knife if you’re willing to hold it by pinching the blade about half an inch from the top. You want to go in a spiral around the ham about one inch apart, then go back spiraling the other way around. You want to tent foil over the roasting pan, making sure the foil is tight but also not touching the ham (you may need to crimp two pieces of foil together to do it). Cook for 3-4 hours at 250 degrees or until it’s 130 in the center. Once it’s done, use tongs to pull off the outer layer of the skin and fat. Now, we get to the variations.

To create a crust on ham and introduce a lot of additional flavor, you need to think about how you get something to stick to food. First you have to put something thick and viscous on the outside, then you can add something more granular packed on top and adding liquid liberally.

For the viscous liquid, many people prefer mustard, honey, or molasses. I prefer something a little different, I take frozen concentrated orange juice and let it melt. It’s very syrupy and it adds both sweetness and a tangy bite.

Next, you can pack on something like brown sugar, graham cracker or ginger snap crumbs (just run them through your food processor or put them in a plastic bag and crunch them up with your hands or bashing them with a rolling pin). The sweeter the first layer you add, the less sweet you want this layer. So if you’re doing mustard, you can go with brown sugar. If you’re doing honey, you’ll want graham cracker. Molasses goes best with the cookies.

Finally, add liquids. Orange juice (the regular kind, not pure concentrate this time), pineapple juice, apple juice, bourbon, anything that accentuates the flavors you’ve already built. The trick to applying it is to use a spray bottle since it will add the liquid evenly without causing the rest of the crust to run off. I like bourbon myself and not just because I get to drink what’s not used.

Now, you can play around with this a lot. Here’s the combinations I like best out of the ones I’ve listed, but feel free to work with whatever combinations you think work best. Just be careful not to make it cloyingly sweet or overwhelming on the molasses flavor, which can be very strong (that means not mixing brown sugar and molasses).

Orange Juice Concentrate – Brown Sugar – Graham Cracker Crumbs – Bourbon (my favorite)

Honey – Graham Cracker Crumbs – Apple Juice

Molasses – Ginger Snap Crumbs – Pineapple/Orange Juice

Mustard – Brown Sugar – Ginger Snap Crumbs – Bourbon (this is Alton Brown’s recipe)

If anyone has any suggestions for combinations, feel free to leave a comment.

Now, you’re going to have a lot of leftovers. What the hell do you do with all that ham after you’ve fed everyone? Well of course you can make some thin slices to make the best ham sandwiches ever. You can find a ton of ham salad recipes out there, but there’s two really awesome things I like to do with them, one’s with the meat and the other is with the bones and bits you can’t cut off. And yeah, I’m giving you proper recipes this time.

First is a quiche. Here’s the ingredients.

Frozen 9″ pie crust

1 c heavy cream or half-and-half

2 eggs

1/4 tsp kosher salt

Diced ham (about 1/4″ cubes)

Shredded cheese (cheddar and swiss work best, monterrey jack and mozzarella work well too)

Yeah, I didn’t give amounts for the ham and cheese because again, you’re going to have to eyeball it. Add the ham and cheese to the pie crust, but make sure not to overfill it. It should have plenty of gaps and it shouldn’t go over the top of the edge of the pie crust. Whisk the eggs together, then slowly pour in the dairy. Keep whisking until it’s thoroughly combined, then pour into the pie crust until it’s about 4/5 to the top of the crust (the eggs will expand when cooked). Put in a pre-heated 350 degree oven and cook for 45 minutes. It will be about as wobbly as jello when it’s done. Let it sit for 15 minutes and slice into wedges. It’s an absolutely delicious breakfast, and it keeps in the fridge well-covered for a couple of days.

Now we’ve got that bone…I weep myself to sleep some nights thinking about how many of these are just thrown away. There’s a reason ham and black eyed peas became such a stable of Southern Holiday dinners, and it’s because beans and pork go together so well. It doesn’t really matter what beans you’re making, find your favorite recipe and stick that ham bone in there! Here’s one of my favorites for pinto beans.

1 lb dried pinto beans (spread them on out on sheet pan and discard any that look funny or that are actually rocks…seriously, you’ll get them in even the best quality dried beans)

1 ham bone, leave meat attached

1/2 c dark brown sugar

1 tbsp kosher salt

1 1/2 tsp onion powder

1 1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tsp black pepper

Chicken or vegetable stock/broth (variable)

Put the beans in a covered bowl and cover with about an inch or two of cold water. Let soak overnight (at least 8 hours). Either dump the whole thing into a crock pot or cast iron dutch oven, or drain the beans and put them in the pot. Add all the other ingredients and add the broth/stock until there’s about 4 cups of liquid total (should cover the beans by about half an inch or so). If you’re using a slow cooker, put it on low for 8 hours. If you’re using a dutch oven, cover it and put it in a 250 degree oven for 6-8 hours, stirring every couple of hours. Serve with cornbread (that will have to wait for another column). You can leave the bone in when you serve it, but take it out before you refrigerate any leftovers. Those will be good for 3-5 days if you keep them tightly covered. The more liquid you add, the soupier it will be. By the way, if you don’t have a ham bone, most stores that have a deli will typically sell what’s called “end cuts”. Get the higher end country style hams or a ham hock for dirt cheap and use that instead (you’ll want about a pound worth and if it’s mostly meat, you’ll want to dice it first).

That should give you plenty of tips to feed the hordes on those “Hey, I’m off work/school for the holidays, we should play games the entire time!” marathons this holiday season, or for any other time you want to feed a bunch of people for dirt cheap.

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