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Hamming It Up
For Easter
By John Havel

In the United States, ham is a traditional Easter food. In the early days, meat was slaughtered in the fall. There was no refrigeration, and the fresh pork that wasn't consumed during the winter months before Lent was cured for spring. The curing process took a long time, and the first hams were ready around the time Easter rolled around. Thus, ham was a natural choice for the celebratory Easter dinner.

Hams come in many types. They're fully cooked or uncooked, wet-cured or dry cured, bone-in, semi-boneless or boneless. Should you buy a whole ham, a shank half, a butt half, or a canned ham? How do you choose a ham?

The three most common types of ham in the United States are fresh ham, city ham and country ham. Fresh ham is not cured and can be cooked like any other cut of fresh pork. Wet curing is the most popular method for curing ham. Traditionally, a fresh ham was soaked in a liquid curing solution for a couple of weeks so that the cure could penetrate the meat. Today, fresh hams are injected with a curing solution and cure in just a day or two. After the ham is cured, it is usually smoked. The result is a "city ham", a moist, juicy ham like the ones you find in the supermarket.

Dry curing is the process used to make "country ham" like the famous Smithfield ham from Virginia. A country ham starts out as a fresh ham that is rubbed with a dry cure mixture, smoked in a smokehouse, then aged at 75-80F or higher in rooms or barn-like structures for a period of a few months to more than a year.

My favorite ham is one that is sold in the refrigerated case at your grocery store and labelled "ready to cook" - preferably with the bone in (more flavor). Yes, you will need to cook it for several hours, but this is where the flavor will kick in. Simply warming up a pre-cooked (or canned) ham and decorating it with pineapple and cherries doesn't take much work, and the taste proves it. I wouldn't serve pre-cooked turkey for Thanksgiving, and an Easter dinner deserves the same respect.

Easter Baked Ham
1 city style (brined) ham, bone in
1/4 cup brown mustard
1 ounce bourbon
2 cups dark brown sugar
2 cups crushed ginger snap cookies

Heat oven to 250F. Remove ham from bag, rinse and drain thoroughly. Place ham, cut side down, in a roasting pan. Using a small paring knife, score the ham from bottom to top, spiraling clockwise as you cut being careful to only cut through the skin and first few layers of fat. Rotate the ham after each cut so that the scores are no more than 2-inches across. Once you've made it all the way around, move the knife to the other hand and repeat, spiraling counter clockwise. The aim is to create a diamond pattern all over the ham.

Tent the ham with heavy duty foil, insert a thermometer, and cook for 3 to 4 hours or until the internal temperature at the deepest part of the meat registers 130F. Remove and use tongs to pull away the diamonds of skin and any sheets of fat that come off with them.

Heat oven to 350F. Dab the ham dry with paper towels. Combine mustard and bourbon and then brush on a liberal coating using a basting brush. Sprinkle on brown sugar, packing loosely as you go until the ham is coated. Then loosely pack on as much of the crushed cookies as you can. Insert the thermometer and return to the oven (uncovered). Cook until interior temperature reaches 140F, approximately 1 hour. Let the roast rest for 1/2 hour before carving.

Music By John Havel

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