Whether ‘city’ or ‘country,’ baked ham is versatile, easy
I had been thinking of baking a ham for a few days and remembered several people told me to get Sylvia Woodward’s recipe for baked ham, that hers was the best. When I called her, she laughed, saying that it was so simple it was hardly a recipe.
As you know, almost all hams are now precooked and just need heating. Hams today are from new breeds of hogs that are lean and meaty. They have very little internal fat and before leaving the packing plant, most of the outside fat is trimmed away. Ham, like all pork is high quality protein but since ham is cured with salt, a considerable percentage of sodium is present in a serving of ham.
If you need to get out of the “what can I cook” rut, bake a ham. Who can resist a slice of ham hot from the oven surrounded by fresh summer vegetables? After that, it’s a ham sandwich with a thick, juicy slice of homegrown tomato and crisp lettuce. Then maybe ham salad sandwiches, ham quiche, ham in a biscuit for breakfast and, finally, the ham bone cooked with beans; preferably fresh shelled. Leftover ham can be used in so many ways from casseroles, to paninis to cold pasta salads.
Woodward’s grandchildren request grits and gravy when she cooks ham. They call it “sweet gravy.” You don’t end up with much for pan juices but as the brown sugar glaze melts and drips in the pan, it gets dark and, if you add water to that, you have sweet brown gravy.
There are three general classifications of American ham: city ham, country ham and fresh ham. “City” ham is brined or injected with salt, sugar, seasoning and curing agents; referred to as wet-cured. It’s sealed in a plastic wrapping, refrigerated and marked ready to serve, partially cooked — or ready to cook. “Country” ham is dry rubbed with salt and seasonings and aged. It’s saltier and dryer than city ham. “Fresh” ham is raw and not cured, so you definitely have to cook fresh hams. For partially cooked and fresh ham, it should reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees for safe eating.
Bone-in hams are generally moister and more flavorful than boneless hams. Since few of us need a whole ham, most of them are cut in half. The butt half, or butt end, is higher up on the hog’s thigh and it’s meaty and easy to carve. It’s usually a little more expensive.
The shank, or shank end, is a little lower on the leg. There are arguments as to which is tastier, the butt or the shank portion. That can be up to you.
There are several good choices of ham in our markets and you may have a favorite brand. Woodward told me if she has a choice, she buys the Cook’s Butt Portion Ham. She prefers the butt end to the shank.
For years, if my family or I headed to the beach, I baked ham and turkey breast for sandwiches.
I like that so much better than sliced deli meats. I just tested Woodward’s recipe before I left for the Gulf Coast last week, so I happily packed it in my ice chest to take with me for sandwiches.
Woodward’s recipe is simply baking the ham 15 minutes per pound and then slathering on a paste of brown sugar, flour, vinegar and yellow mustard during the last 30 minutes of cooking.
Everyone agreed it was delicious.
Corinne Cook is a columnist for The Advocate. Reach her at email@example.com.