When I was growing up, ham and I had a difference of opinion. Upon arriving at a holiday soiree at which the main course was ham, I'd fantasize about taking it outside, blindfolding it, stepping back 25 paces or so, and letting loose with an AR-15 rifle on the big pink bastard. Sure, I'd settle for sneaking out for a microwave burrito, but that didn't change the fact that I wanted to kill that goddamned ham.
The ham that I grew up hating is made by curing meat from the hind leg of a hog and producing those wet-looking triangular blocks of pig wrapped in plastic that live on the first shelf of deli cases, ugly next-door neighbors to bologna. Then there are the tabletop versions, which lack the plastic wrap and are usually served bone-in. These fellows may look better than their spongy deli cousins, but they're just as
distasteful, which is why they induce those violent meat-shooting fantasies.
Apparently, though, beyond the simple, clumsy, generic curing process that results in the stuff that makes me leave the room, there lie positively sublime ham-cooking techniques. The first inkling I had of this came at a family reunion at which a traditional country ham was being served.
Turns out that traditional country hams that are done right can be chunks of pink art. They're made by covering the meat with a salt-based rub, then curing them for up to 180 days, with or without smoking, sometimes varied temperatures to simulate the change of seasons. Often these hams must be soaked overnight because of their extreme saltiness, but if prepared right and served thinly sliced on fresh biscuits, they'll produce the kinds of moans rarely heard outside the San Fernando valley.
As if that weren't enough to cause the scales to fall from my eyes, a year or two later, someone sent me a spiral-sliced ham from one of those national chains that actually has ham in its name. Though my thoughts jumped once again to an AR-15, memories of that country ham convinced me not only to stand down but to try it. I've often felt that almost any food can be improved by the addition of a sugary glaze, and holy shit, it bore almost no resemblance to my sworn enemy, generic ham.
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Apparently, there are ways to cook ham, I've learned, that make it worth eating until you enter a pig-induced catatonia. Finally, something ham and I can agree on.
Bradford Schmidt is the Meatist. He's also author of the blog Bone in the Fan. He lives in northern Palm Beach County and has been known to cover himself in a honey glaze.