I REALLY love ham! It’s not a guilty pleasure; it’s more of a passion. I’m awestruck by the varieties of ham produced worldwide. So many different flavors, so many unique textures, so many unexplored possibilities. If ham were a woman, I would probably be a polygamist. I can’t be satisfied with just one, no matter how luxurious the flesh, how delicious, how satisfying … after experiencing its distinct pleasures … I have to try another.
I’m not alone in this awkward pork fetish. It’s estimated that, worldwide, nearly eight pounds of ham are consumed per person annually.
There are basically three types of ham: dry or salt-cured, wet-cured or brined, and fresh. Each of these styles involves simple, time-tested techniques that result in sumptuous products. Dry-cured involves salt, sometimes a little sugar and spices. Classic examples are prosciutto, Bayonne, Serrano, and Westphalian. For brined, think smoked, deli or boiled ham. Fresh hams are roasted uncured.
Each of us has an opinion on which ham is best. For me, the unquestionable winner is prosciutto. Not just any prosciutto, but Prosciutto di Parma. Don’t disagree, peasant! No other ham is quite as silky, as sweet, and as provocatively salty as Prosciutto di Parma. Don’t believe me? Travel to Parma, Italy, and go to a prosciutto factory. There is no comparison to the quality of ham there, as opposed to the stuff exported to here.
Next, let’s talk brined hams. That’s the kind you get in America’s favorite sandwich, the humble ham. Ham appears in many guises, from Virginia boiled to canned to smoked. Yeah, baby, smoked as in a 25-pound, bone-in, pork steamship that’s been brined for six days, then slow-smoked for another seven hours. OMG, I can almost smell it.
Wait … I can smell it, because I just pulled one from the smoker! I know you want some, but this baby is all mine. What do you think inspired me to write this column? Y’all can just salivate while you think about it. Can’t talk now — my mouth is full of ham!
Chef Bill’s Smoked Ham
• 3 gallons of water
• 2 pounds salt
• 1 pound brown sugar
• 7 ounces pink salt, instacure #1
• 1/2 gallon apple juice
• 1 cup pickling spice
• 3 tablespoons black peppercorns
• 6 garlic cloves, crushed
• 2 onions, julienned
1. Combine two gallons of the water with the salt (not the pink salt), brown sugar, apple juice, pickling spice, peppercorns, garlic, and onions in a large stockpot. Bring to a boil, remove from heat.
2. Cool for one hour. Add the pink salt and enough ice to equal 1 gallon of water.
3. Place in a cooler and cool to 40°F.
4. Remove 10 percent of the weight of the brine, inject the ham in eight equally spaced points and along the inside of the bone.
5. Place the brine, along with the injected ham, in a large storage container, cover and chill for six days.
6. Soak ham in fresh cold water for 30 minutes, remove and dry. Place on a towel in the cooler overnight, uncovered.
7. Smoke at 190°F for approximately six hours or until it reaches an internal temp of 155°F. Enjoy!
Until we cook again!