This started off as a plan with great intentions last September. I wanted to make some Christmas hams. And I wanted to do it the Marketman way. We bought a couple of pigs, named them Agnes and Elena after our two best eaters in the office, and put them in a nice pen and fed them like crazy, gave them twice daily baths, sang to them and encouraged them to develop some serious thighs. The plan was to have fattened them up by mid-December, with just enough time to prep them for holiday ham. They crossed 50 kilos around December, but they weren’t fat enough. In fact, I was beginning to think they were enjoying themselves too much, and perhaps figured out what I was trying to do…
…so nix the Christmas idea, keep feeding the pigs until they hit say 80 kilos in weight. It was not to be, just as they were rounding say 70 kilos in February, they got sick and died. We don’t use antibiotics nor inject our pigs with anything else, so we aren’t sure what did them in, but suffice it say that experiment didn’t end well. Homegrown, organic, happy hams were not to be. Then a week later, passing by S&R’s chilled butchery section, I spied whole hams hanging on a rack. Could it be this easy? Yup, just head to the grocery and buy the darned thing. :) I picked out a ham that was roughly 10 kilos with hoof, and they removed the hoof for me, and back at home, I removed the aitch bone myself to end up with a perfectly good looking ham, albeit piggery raised on feed and steroids perhaps.
It certainly looked like a ham. For this recipe I merged elements of at least two recipes, one from a Bon Appetit magazine article for a fresh ham I wrote about here, but adjusted a LOT due to the lack of salt in the last one I made, with some prague powder for the classic pink color and preservation effects, as well as a mustard and brown sugar glaze that is usually applied to an aged southern ham… Think of this as a snazzy roast leg of pork. It is a fresh ham, not a long-cured salty dry ham. There is a big difference so you need to have the right expectations.
The first step was to score the skin through the fat but not to the meat. This was a minor pain in the @!#$!. The sharpest knife in the kitchen, and I sharpened it just for this task, struggled to make a nice clean slice through the skin. We tried an exacto knife and that didn’t do much better.
So we ended up using a good old-fashioned but new rube shaving blade. I took the photos, one of our crew did the cutting. I know, good excuse, right? At any rate, once he got the hang of it, this took a total of say 10-12 minutes to do, making the diamond pattern of cuts…
Next, we stuck the ham in a turkey brining bag (one of those big heavy duty plastic bags that they relabel and charge you an arm and a leg for) which I suspect a heavy duty garbage bag would work just as well, but wash it out first. I added 2/3 cup of kosher salt (you can add more if you like your hams even saltier), lots of chopped sage, oregano and rosemary, crushed black pepper, three tablespoons of brown sugar, and smeared this all over the ham…
…I also added lots of orange zest which is an essential ingredient of this particular version of ham I think. The orange rind really gave this a distinctive aroma.
The last time I made this ham, it was really pale, almost milk-fed veal like in color, and frankly, I missed the classic pink tinge of a cured ham. So this time around, I dissolved 3 teaspoons of prague powder in water and added this to the bag, massaging it in a few hours later, when I got my hands on the prague powder. The use of nitrates is potentially a poisonous kind of thing, so pay attention to recommended amounts per weight of meat. I went UNDER the recommended amount, thinking I just wanted a slight pink, and I didn’t need the Prague powder so much for the anti-bacterial action but for the color. Hmmm, maybe beet juice would have been a better choice…
Seal the plastic bag, removing most of the air, and let this ham marinate in your fridge for at least 4 days, preferably 5-6 days, turning the bag over twice a day to ensure that the marinade is evenly absorbed. After 4 days, we removed the ham from the plastic bag, removed all the marinade ingredients and placed it on a rack in a baking sheet. It had a nice pink color to it (particularly the exposed meat, rather than the skin) and I was very happy with the appearance of the ham at this point. Season the skin and meat with a bit more salt and pepper and it is now ready for the oven.
We fired up the oven to 450F and placed the ham in it for 30 minutes to get to this color. Turn the oven down to say 330F and let it cook some 3.5-4.0 hours more until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat registers say 145F. Some recipes suggest you pull it out sooner at say 140F, and not to worry about slightly pink meat near the bone as it has already reached a safe temperature, but for most pinoy guests, including our crew, the slightly pink pork gives them the hibbie-jibbies, so cook it to say 145 or 150F on your meat thermometer. It will cook further when you remove it and internal temps will rise to 160F, which should take care of the pink meat, though it will dry out a little more.
Keep putting some water in the base of your roasting pan to kind of steam the ham and keep it moist. This is what the ham looked like after roughly 2.5 hours in the oven. If you want to crisp up the skin further, turn the oven up high and use the convection feature if you have it for the last 15-20 minutes until you get a crisp crackling…
Let the ham rest for at least 30 minutes before you carve and eat it. You can go straight ahead and eat this as is. But I decided to add a glaze of brown sugar, dijon mustard and a touch of wine vinegar, which we brushed all over and put the ham back in the oven to caramelize the mixture… This is for added flavor and texture.
Doesn’t this get your salivary glands going on overdrive?
The ham looked terrific at this point, and I had great hopes for the final product.
It was looking pretty darned good.
And we made a gravy from the pan drippings, some fresh orange juice and some cornstarch dissolved in water.
Slicing into the meat, we came across this superficial ring of pink near exposed areas of meat. Clearly, I hadn’t used enough prague powder and it hadn’t had enough time to work it’s way into the meat to make it a uniform pink. But never mind, that experiment wasn’t essential and the ham still tasted great. It looks dry in this photo but actually it was quite moist, and somewhere between a fresh roast and a classic southern ham (soaked and boiled and baked) in terms of moisture.
With some of the gravy, along with a seafood paella, it made for a very festive and delicious pre-Easter celebratory meal. We cooked this at the beach a couple of days ago. If I were to improve on this experience, I would try and inject the prague powder, water and salt solution into the meat with a big needle so that the color might even out. I would also leave this another day or two in the fridge before cooking it.
If you haven’t made a fresh ham before, I highly recommend it. For a total expense of say PHP2,200, this 6-7 kilo cooked ham excluding the bone and shrinkage, could easily feed a crowd of 20+, and you will have leftovers to boot. We have heated up some of the leftovers and they make terrific fillings for sandwiches or if you are a rice fiend like me, it goes great fried and served with steamed rice! Happy Easter to you all!