Ham seems to be the number one pick of readers when asked what dish will anchor their Christmas meal. And I totally understand why â€“ hams are absolutely delicious and memorable, easy to prepare and store, and compared to many other choices, very reasonably priced for the number of folks served. Last year I almost did a taste test of locally available hams, even sending someone to Quiapo to buy samples of Adelinaâ€™s, Excellente, Majestic and other brands from around the city. I was so crazed at that point that I never got to post the resultsâ€¦and I have since lost my harried notes. I do recall however that the Majestic and Excellente brands were pretty good. So was Adelinaâ€™s. Actually, you canâ€™t go too wrong with any of the three mentioned. But for me, axe the heavily pineapple influenced glazes, as I am allergic to pineapples. And worse, axe the overly sugared versions…for me, hams should be saltier rather than sweeter and the sickly sweet versions are on my hit list. But I have to cross national borders on this dish, and say that for me, the absolute must have ham for the holidays is a U.S. country ham, either a Clifty Farms Country Ham from Paris, Tennessee or a Smithfield Ham from Virginia (the latter saltier, I think).
Many pinoys based in America complain that they canâ€™t seem to replicate the taste of their Noche Buena hams from childhood or early adulthood memories and many write me that their hams are just to soft, too meaty, too bland. So here is Marketman and sisterâ€™s tip for those of you who have missed the news â€“ try a country ham. You will be incredibly surprised by the results and you will make this your new favorite Christmas anchor dish in North America. My sister was kind, strong and brave enough to pack about 5 hams in her suitcases when she visited a couple of weeks ago. She brought polish hams (also very good), smoked turkeys and several Clifty Farm Hams, still in their boxesâ€¦ This is the ONLY way I can ensure that we have a country ham for Christmas, unless they are fed-exed or couriered and not intercepted by customs officials or some unsuspecting relative agrees to carry “some stuff” back for the holidays, not knowing when they said “yes,” that it would include whole hams…heehee.
Country hams are salt cured and stored at above freezing temperatures over the winter and traditionally (often with hickory wood) smoked in the early spring. They are intensely flavored, very salty and dense. When you have ordered your ham and it has arrived, unwrap it and brush off any surface mold with a vegetable brush or other similar instrument. Then completely soak the ham in water in a cool spot (refrigeration NOT necessary) for 24-28 hours, changing the water at least once or twice to removes some of the saltiness. Then place the ham in a large pot and add water to cover, if possible. Simmer over low heat for say 3-4 hours until it has â€œre-hydratedâ€ a bit. Do not boil, the water should be BARELY gurgling or simmering. Think of this as a nice Japanese hot spring bath, enough to make you feel warm and fuzzy all over, but not enough to cook your gonads, sillyâ€¦ heeheehee.
Turn off the heat and let the ham soak a little more if it isnâ€™t softened up a bit. Then drain, remove some and only some, of the fat layer on top. Score the skin by making a large diamond pattern, then make a mixture of brown sugar, Dijon mustard and some vinegar and slather this on the ham and bake at 375 degrees until the glaze has dissolved/melted. This wonâ€™t take more than 20-25 minutes. Take it out of the oven and it is ready to serve. Slice thinly as it is INTENSE and for some, incredibly salty. I absolutely love it. And at USD50-60 for a 16-20 pound ham plus shipping, it is a very reasonable main dish that would easily feed 15 people. Actually, it costs far less than the whole Majestic ham I bought the other day which was just 8-9 pounds and a little more than the Clifty Farm Ham! If you are in the U.S., contact Clifty Farm, P.O. Box 1146, Paris Tennessee 38242, 1-800-486-4267, or www.cliftyfarm.com. Enjoy!