Friday, February 22, 2013

The Easter Ham


Preparing a ham purchased at a market by Mr. Food

      The United States largely inherited its traditions relating to ham and pork from 17th-century Britain and 18th-century France, the latter especially in Louisiana. The French often used wet cure processed hams that are the foundation stock of several modern dishes, like certain gumbos and sandwiches. Until the very early 20th century, men living in the southern Appalachians would drive their pigs to market in the flatlands below each Autumn, fattening up their stock on chestnuts and fallen mast. Further, archaeological evidence suggests that the early settlers of Jamestown (men largely from the West Midlands) built swine pens for the pigs they brought with them and, once established, also carried on an ancient British tradition of slaughtering their pigs and producing their pork in mid-November. To this day, the result is that in many areas, a large ham, not a turkey, is the centerpiece of a family Christmas dinner.
      In the United States, ham is regulated primarily on the basis of its cure and water content. The USDA recognizes the following categories: Fresh ham is an uncured hind leg of pork. Country ham is uncooked, cured, dried, smoked or unsmoked, made from a single piece of meat from the hind leg of a hog or from a single piece of meat from a pork shoulder (picnic ham). Country ham typically is saltier and less sweet than city ham. Virginia's Smithfield ham, a country ham, must be grown and produced in or around Smithfield, Virginia, to be sold as a Smithfield ham. Similar hams from Tennessee and the Appalachians have a similar method of preparation, but may include honey in their cures and be hickory smoked. As country ham ages, mold may grow on the outside of the ham, while the rest of the meat continues to age. This process produces a distinctive flavor, but the mold layer is usually scrubbed or cut off the ham before being cooked and served.
      For most other purposes, under US law, a "ham" is a cured hind leg of pork that is at least 20.5% protein (not counting fat portions), and contains no added water. However, "ham" can be legally applied to "turkey ham" if the meat is taken from the turkey thigh. If the ham has less than 20.5% but is at least 18.5% protein, it can be called "ham with natural juices". A ham that is at least 17.0% protein and up to 10% added solution can be called "ham—water added". Finally, "ham and water product" refers to a cured hind leg of pork product that contains any amount of added water, although the label must indicate the percent added ingredients. If a ham has been cut into pieces and molded, it must be labelled "sectioned and formed", or "chunked and formed" if coarsely ground.
      Sugar is common in many dry hams in the United States; it is used to cover the saltiness. The majority of common wet-cured ham available in U.S. supermarkets is of the "city ham" or "sweet cure" variety, in which brine is injected into the meat for a very rapid curing suitable for mass market. Traditional wet curing requires immersing the ham in a brine for an extended period, often followed by light smoking.

Smoking the Easter Ham

      In addition to the main categories, some processing choices can affect legal labeling. A 'smoked' ham must have been smoked by hanging over burning wood chips in a smokehouse or an atomized spray of liquid smoke such that the product appearance is equivalent; a "hickory-smoked" ham must have been smoked using only hickory. However, injecting "smoke flavor" is not legal grounds for claiming the ham was "smoked"; these are labeled "smoke flavor added". Hams can only be labelled "honey-cured" if honey was at least 50% of the sweetener used, is at least 3% of the formula, and has a discernible effect on flavor. So-called "lean" and "extra lean" hams must adhere to maximum levels of fat and cholesterol per 100 grams of product.
      Turkey ham, a boneless product made from pressed turkey thigh meat, is a low-fat alternative to traditional ham in the US.
      Spiral sliced ham has become popular option for bone-in or boneless hams sold in the US. In the spiral cutting process, the ham is firmly affixed, on the top and bottom, to a rotating base, which is gradually lowered as a blade is applied. This creates one single continuous slice.

Soaking the Easter Ham in Brine
More Related Content:
Otto Stahl's "Ready-to-Eat-Meats" from 1921 newspaper.



 

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