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Exploring Ham

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Written by foodie pam   
Sunday, 28 March 2010
List of viewable recipes from "Ham: An Obsession with the Hindquarter" by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough

ImageWhat's ham?  For many, it's the meat eaten on Easter. Often it's a pre-cooked spiral-cut grocery store item that is simply warmed up, perhaps with a glaze, pineapples and clove studs. 

But Ham is much more - ham includes several meat preparations all of which come from the hind quarter of a pig.  It's all rather confusing if you ask me, ham is the hind quarter and from it you make ham. While such things may cause some to veer away, ham and all its complexities appealed to Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough who set-out on an adventure to learn about ham and in the process wrote a book about it.

The result, "Ham: An Obsession with the Hindquarter", is a witty story that will entertain you while introducing you to all that is ham - including great recipes for various types of ham. And since ham tends to be large they've also included lots of recipes for left over ham.

The story within ham, which includes Mark and Bruce's very own Wilbur, is intermixed with the recipes and is a gem in and of it self.  Really - even if you were to ignore all of the recipes (which would be a shame) and merely read the chapter introductions, recipe head notes, and charming Ye Olde Oinker news sections you will fully enjoy the book.  Scarbrough is a wonderful writer who will keep you turning page after page while you learn about fresh ham, dry cured European and American ham, and wet-cured ham. 

Although, the smarter approach is to read the book and try Bruce's recipes.  To start, for your next large family gathering, you may want to consider an alternate to that store-bought spiral cut ham.  How about making your own Roasted Fresh Ham with a Maple-Spice Glaze (recipe below)?  Or if you'd rather take your ham in smaller bites the Brushetta with Dry-Cured Ham, Pears, and Parmigiano-Regiano would be a great start to exploring all that ham has to offer.

Roasted Fresh Ham with a Maple-Spice Glaze

From Ham: An Obsession with the Hindquarter by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2010)

After our existential ordeal with Wilbur, Bruce wanted to develop a recipe that honored the first taste of the meat by using the simplest preparation: roasted, not fussed up. So here's his basic recipe for a fresh ham. Yes, it requires several hours of slow cooking. Open another bottle of Pinot Noir and relax.

feeds 6 teenage boys, 16 adults, or 26 twentysomething models

  • One 8- to 10-pound bone-in fresh ham, preferably from the shank end, any rind removed
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup maple syrup

1. Put the Dickensian joint in a large roasting pan, preferably one that's shiny enough to reflect lots of ambient heat and not so flimsy that it tips willy-nilly when you pick it up. Set the oven rack as high as it can go and still afford the ham at least 2 inches of head space. Leave the roast in its pan out on the counter and fire the oven up to 325 F.

2. Mix the sugar, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, and salt in a small bowl. Wash and dry your hands, then smooth the spice mixture all over the ham's external surface. Work it down into some of the crevices, but be careful to avoid any deep-tissue massage. A ham is a complex structure of muscle groups-too much massage and they can come apart like Goldie Hawn in Death Becomes Her.

3. Cover the whole kit and caboodle with aluminum foil, shove it in the oven, and leave it alone for 3 1/2 hours, while you go do whatever it is you do when a big, sweating hunk of meat is roasting in your oven.

4. Peel off the aluminum foil. Baste the ham with about half the maple syrup, preferably using a basting brush. Take it easy so you don't knock off the spice coating. Use small strokes-think Impressionism, not Abstract Expressionism. (Or just dribble the syrup off a spoon.)

5. Continue roasting the ham, uncovered this time, basting every 15 minutes or so with more maple syrup as well as any pan drippings, until an instant-read meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat without touching bone registers 170 F, about 1 1/4 hours. If it starts to singe or turn too dark, tent it loosely with foil, uncovering it just at the last to get it back to crunchy-crisp.

Ham, Pears, and Parmigiano-Reggiano

From Ham: An Obsession with the Hindquarter by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2010)

makes 12 appetizer bruschette, to hold 6 people an hour or so

The best bruschetta is made with slightly stale, crunchy bread. Cut 12 slices off a large baguette or Italian bread, then leave them out on the counter all day. Once they're a little stale, they'll accept the garlic rub without tearing and will also have better tooth when toasted.

  • dry-cured ham in the old world 87
  • Twelve somewhat stale, 1/2-inch-thick slices French or Italian bread
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, each halved lengthwise
  • 1/4 cup toasted almond, walnut, or pecan oil
  • 2 ripe Bartlett pears, cored and thinly sliced
  • 3 ounces prosciutto crudo or jamón serrano, thinly sliced and then cut into 12 small pieces, each about 1/4 ounce
  • 2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, shaved into thin strips with a vegetable peeler
  • 6 tablespoons honey

1. Set the rack in the oven so that it's 4 to 6 inches from the heat source and preheat the broiler.

2. Rub one side of each bread slice with the cut side of one of the garlic cloves. Don't press down and tear the bread; rather, lightly rub the garlic onto the bread so that its oils get into the crumb. You'll notice that the garlic slivers begin to wear down as you rub them on the bread, so use a new one when each gets a little long in the tooth.

3. Drizzle the garlicky side of each bread slice with 1 teaspoon oil.

4. Lay the slices, oil side up, on a large baking sheet or the broiler rack. Toast under the broiler until lightly brown and crunchy, 2 or 3 minutes.

5. Remove the baking sheet or broiler tray from the broiler. Place a few pear slices on each piece of bread; top with a prosciutto slice, draping it over the fruit. Sprinkle some shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano over each piece, then drizzle each bread slice with 1 1/2 teaspoons honey.

6. Optional. Return the sheet or tray to the broiler and continue broiling just until the cheese melts, no more than 1 minute. Don't let the cheese brown-just let it soften and run a bit. Remove the tray or sheet from the oven and transfer the bruschette to a wire rack to cool for a minute or so (if you leave them on the tray or sheet, they can get soft and gummy from condensing steam underneath).

About Ham: An Obsession with the Hindquarter

A ham is (let us not mince words) a pig's rear end. It's a hefty hunk of flesh and bone, weighing in somewhere between 12 and 30 pounds. Fresh or cured, ham can be prepared in innumerable ways. And (here's the clincher) ham is incredibly delicious-the kind of meat whose sheer scrumptiousness can entice even the most diehard vegan into having second thoughts.

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Disclosure: Review copies of books discussed in this post may have been provided to Project Foodie by publicists and/or publishers.


Last Updated ( Monday, 29 March 2010 )
Mark Scarbrough (Unregistered) 2010-03-28 10:26:14

Gosh, thanks for the great review. I laughed out loud many a time as I was writing that book. Fortunately. Because as you know if you read some of the stories, I was more like horrified most of the time as the actual events were happening!
pam (Publisher) 2010-03-28 11:07:42

And your horror made it all the more real (and entertaining...).
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