Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Holiday Ham

      When I found out the family was coming for Christmas, I was very excited.  I immediately called Boo to talk about what they wanted to do while they were here.  I also asked him what he wanted for Christmas dinner.

      "Dangit!"  he exclaimed.  "I didn't even think of that."

      "Mom made the best honey ham for Easter, and I was really excited about having one for Christmas, but I guess that won't be happening at YOUR house."

      Now, I have to say that when Boo stayed with us for about a month last summer, he had no problems with the food.  He was actually surprised by how much he liked my cooking and the "hippie" lifestyle.  That said, he still snuck hot pockets and pizza rolls once in a while when the kids weren't around.

      I reminded Boo that while we rarely eat meat, we are not vegetarians.  We are Ethical Eaters.  We eat meat when we can get it from a local, humane source, and we only eat it a few times a month because humans aren't meant to eat meat every day.  And I just so happened to know of a [somewhat] local pig farm.  I assured Boo the ham would be better than any crap you can get from the store, and set out in search of a cut of meat and a recipe.

      I played a little bit of phone and email tag with the couple who own the farm I planned to get the ham from, with the woman insisting to me over and OVER again that a fresh ham from a farm is NOT like a store bought ham.  Of course.  A fresh ham is not cured.  It is not pumped full of chemicals, nitrates/nitrites, sodium, fillers, and dye.  I understood completely.  That's why I was putting so much thought and research into the recipe.  But still, EVERY time I spoke to her, she reminded me that this ham would taste more like a pork roast than a grocery store chemical ham.  It actually got rather annoying after a time.  But the man I spoke to on the farm was far from condescending, and their pork was all humanely raised and well worth it.

      So one afternoon in December, I packed up the kids and made the hour and ten minute (one way) trek out to the farm to pick up our ham - which, by that point, I was starting to call "Boo's ham."

      I'm sure a 3 hour round trip might seem like a lot for one cut of meat, but I look at the bigger picture:  The drive wasn't for the meat itself, it was for what the meat represents.  It was for meat free of artifical hormones, antibiotics, and toxic chemicals (and YES, the meat in the grocery store - even some of the "organic" meat, contains TOXIC chemicals proven to increase the risk of brain cancer in children; why the EFF would anyone eat that?).  It was for meat from pigs that were raised humanely, allowed to roam and play, and live.  Because not only do I avoid putting toxic chemicals and additives into my body or feeding them to my family, I also avoid taking the products of cruelty and suffering into my body or feeding them to my family.

Punky with the happy cows on the farm.  THIS is why I won't eat the cruelty laden garbage from the grocery store.
      So we drove out and picked up the ham.  I also picked up some sausage and chorizo.  I'm sure we'll be going back there sometime around Ostara (Easter for you Christian and/or secular types) because all the meat turned out delicious.

      Now for the recipe.  I cobbled this together from a variety of different sites and recipes.  There are two steps to it, brining and baking.  Brining is necessary to obtain a "grocery store-like" honey ham taste.  We had a 3lb ham.  All amounts are estimates, and should be adjusted for taste.  You will need more of everything for a bigger ham.

      Brine Ingredients
  • ~ 2 liters cola (I suggest a pop made with real sugar like Pepsi Throwback.  High fructose corn syrup should be avoided, and diet soda or pop with artifical sweeteners should NOT be used).
    • Yes, I used this much pop in my recipe.  My goal was flavor.  Since this was a holiday meal, I wasn't quite as uptight about sugar as I usually am.  Plus, the brine is ultimately discarded and there were plenty of veggies served with the ham.
  • 1 - 2 cups kosher salt
  • 1 head of garlic, crushed/minced
  • 6 Bay leaves
  • 6 tbsp freshly ground pepper
      You'll need a big enough containter to hold the whole ham, completely submerged in the brine.  I used the crock from my crock pot.  If your ham has skin (ours didn't), slice the skin in a cris-cross pattern.  Put about 2/3 the pop in the pot (be sure the pot isn't going to overflow when the ham is submerged).  Dissolve the salt in the pop.  I actually used half kosher salt and half sushi salt, which is nearly the same, because I needed to reserve some of the Kosher salt for another purpose.  I also found that I lost patience with stirring before the salt was fully dissolved, but it seemed to work out perfectly anyway.  Once the salt is dissolved, add the garlic, pepper, and bay.  Stir.

      Submerge the ham in the brine.  Add the remaining 1/3 of the pop if necessary to cover the ham.  Cover the ham, making sure it remains fully submerged.  I placed a small cup on top of my ham so that when I placed the lid on the crock pot, it pushed the ham down under the brine.

       Leave the ham in the brine for about 2 days, turning it at least once to ensure even flavoring.  I think mine was in for closer to 2 1/2 days, but be careful not to leave it in too long or it will - I'm told - ruin the meat.

      Baking Ingredients (Glaze)*
  • 1 can pineapple rings
  • 1 jar marichino cherries (the pineapple and cherries are NOT necessary unless you're married to MacGvyer or someone like him)
  • Handful of whole cloves
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp sage
      I have to admit this is not the glaze I originally intended to make.  This glaze more or less just happened when certain parties decided to *ahem* help me in the kitchen.

      After taking the meat out of the brine on the day you're going to cook it, let it sit at room temperature for about an hour.  Rinse breifly and pat dry.

      In the meantime, pour only the juice from the can of pineapple and the jar of cherries into a small saucepan.  Stir in the cinnamon and sage.  Simmer gently and allow the juices to reduce to the desired syrupy consistancy.  You may add water and a little honey if you have a bigger ham and are worried about the amount of glaze, but this was more than enough for our 3 lb ham.

      Preheat the oven to 325.

      If your ham has skin, it should already be scored in a criss-cross pattern.  If not, score it now.  In the corners where the lines cross, insert the cloves.  If you live with MacGvyer (or someone with similar tastes), use some of the cloves to pin cherries to the ham.  Place pinapple rings around the cherries.

      Bake the ham uncovered for about 25 minutes per pound, ensuring that the core temperature reaches 160 degrees fahrenheit using a meat thermometer.  About 30 minutes before the ham is done, pour the glaze over it and continue to bake uncovered for the remainder of the time.

      For best results, let the ham sit for a few minutes before carving.  Serve with plenty of fresh, healthy Farmer's Market veggie dishes!

A delicious, completely ethical, holiday meal.  Made extra classy by Boo's Miller High Life.

      The ham this year was a HUGE success.  Everyone loved it, and it was a near perfect replication of the flavor of the "store bought" hams Boo loves.  The flavor of the cola was somewhat detectable, which was by no means a bad thing, but next time I might try a brine without pop in it.  Maybe using honey or pineapple juice.

      One final Ethical Eating Plea:  Please DO NOT use this recipe if you cannot obtain a humanely raised ham.  I do not promote meat eating in general because so many people think nothing of purchasing meat from wherever they can get it at the cheapest price they can find, regaurdless of the sickening and deplorable conditions in which the animals suffer.  This is why I don't typically post meat recipes even when we eat meat.  If you don't care enough to find a humane source for your meat, please don't use my recipes.
*  This glaze was delicious, but far from healthy.  There are a lot of other delicious sounding glaze recipes out there in internet land that might not be quite as syrupy as this one.  Then again, when it comes to a glaze for a special occassion, sugary isn't too bad.  At the very least, I might leave out the marichino cherry juice next time because of the artificial color (or find cherries without the artificial color!).


Masala Chica said...

It sounds delicious. And I think the woman probably had a complex because people probably do complain about meat not tasting "normal" when it is not pumped with nitrates and not processed to the point of being 15 degrees removed from nature. That, along with the practices used by companies like Smithfield, who treat their employees about as well as they treat their animals, probably add a special kick to the flavor.

There is a farm near our home that was profiled in Food, Inc for its humane raising of animals (Polyface Farms). I would love to bring some coolers out there and stock up. While we buy organic, we are still far from where I want us to be on the ethical eating front. Thanks for the inspiration.

MiMi said...

Um. Meat does NOT taste normal when it's not filled with crap they pump it full of.
It tastes BETTER!
We only eat meat that has been ethically raised by my parents. I can't eat store bought meat!
And there's a HUGE difference in ethically grown pork and store bought. HUGE!

Emmy said...

I never knew you could brine ham- but if you brine a turkey why not ham.
Looks like a fabulous meal.

Impulsive Addict said...

I wish I could find a farm like that around me. I live in freakin' oklahoma where there are nothing BUT farms. Why won't they sell me their meat? Instead, we end up paying a fortune for it at another market. I REFUSE to eat meat from local chains. EWWW!

What religion are you? I know you've blogged about it but I can't remember.

Karen Peterson said...

That sounds like it was totally worth the drive. And what a delicious sounding brine!