Fresh Ham

More from Jet! Enjoy!

Last year around Thanksgiving, my brother, who was living in Denver at the time, told me he had ordered a fresh ham from the butcher, which he intended to cure and smoke himself.  In looking around online, it seemed that weeks, if not months, would be required for this purpose, but he was planning to serve it in a few days.  Anne Burrell was one of the few who offered a recipe with a three day cure.  He actually didn’t get around to brining it until the night before and reported the results, over the phone, as we were with friends in Austin, as one inch of cured ham and a bunch of really fancy pork shoulder.  He served it with white barbecue sauce and a cherry gastrique.

In thinking about our hog, we were trying to decide how much ham to leave with Kent for curing and smoking and how much ham to bring home and try fresh. My brother was pretty insistent we leave the whole ham with Kent.  We grew up in the south are both suckers for American Country hams, but really I wanted to try my hand at a fresh ham. Christiana was set on making Anne Burrell’s ham.   I looked at the several options presented in the River Cottage Cookbook, but realized both the Wiltshire and Suffolk cures resulted in hanging the ham high in a chimney for a good long smoke, which wasn’t really viable for us, absent the chimney or a smoker that could accommodate at 30 pound piece of meat.  A dry cured, prosciutto style ham is also discussed.  This takes 9 months and Kent had convinced me requires more control over temperature and humidity than is feasible at home in Southern California without serious professional gear.  I did ask a couple of restaurant chefs to partner with me on the project, but hadn’t turned up a viable resource by our butcher date and didn’t want to run the dual risks of destroying thirty pounds of meat and killing family and friends with botulism.  When Kent got to my ham, I took 1/3 fresh and left 2/3 behind to be cured and smoked, then cut into a reasonable holiday roast, ham steaks, and hocks.  Really, I like Anne Burrell a lot and her recipes typically result in pretty terrific outcomes, so Christiana’s plan sounded like the way to go.  Christie, expertly, cut the ham off of the bone and wrapped it in what is basically a compression stocking for roasts, not uninterestingly, with the aid of something called a Jet Netter, that made it seem effortless.  It was then packed to come home and wait in the freezer until an occasion presented itself in want of a fresh ham.

A few days later, Gran Cocina Latina arrived via UPS.  I had pre-ordered it in August and hadn’t really expected it to arrive until mid-October, so the mid-September delivery was a delightful surprise.  If you don’t have a personal archive of Gourmet magazine, you should absolutely purchase the June, 2009 edition on eBay.  Maricel Presilla has a 17 page spread of the most attractive, exciting, pan-Latin American fiesta I have ever seen.  Ruth Reichl’s editors note details the extraordinary circumstances that resulted in such amazing photos.  The recipes and suggested menus are all delicious and exceptionally beautifulThis has become a go to resource for party food.  I could go on and on and never work my way back around to fresh ham, so, enough with the Gourmet article.  Gran Cocina Latina is Presilla’s stunningly comprehensive survey of the foods and food ways of the Spanish and Portuguese speaking New World with plenty of sociology and history and Old World connections layered in as background.  At 907 pages, it is as academic in nature as any cookbook I’ve ever owned, save the truly indispensable “On Food and Cooking”, by Harold McGee.  Turns out, they are pals.  Of course they are.

Presilla offers a recipe for Home Cured Boneless Peruvian Ham, which she recommends serving in popular sandwiches known as butifarras, alongside a Peruvian Warm Purple Potato and Squash Salad that she and McGee whipped up one day when he dropped by to visit with a bottle of first press olive oil from Northern California.  As much as I love Anne, I couldn’t not make the Peruvian ham, which required a trip to Vallarta Supermarket in Oxnard for a few specialty ingredients.  Vallarta, despite it’s absolutely non localganic-ness, is completely fascinating.  In any case, the entire list of required ingredients for the ham totaled $9.93, which is stunningly inexpensive as far as my specialty culinary projects go.  Also? We had Caldo de Res for dinner that night, which I can never resist buying when it is available and Vallarta’s is especially good.


While I won’t type out the recipe here, the ham is cured in an adobo of mirasol peppers and paprika that preserves the meat.  It is fruity, and spicy, and garlicky, and salty with a hint of oregano and vinegar, and bright red-orange from the ground achiote and paprika.  I actually ate a couple of tablespoons of it right out of the blender prior to marinating the ham.  It was with no small amount of anxiety that I removed the ham from its compression stocking, realizing I would have to tie it back up myself prior to braising it.  The recipe calls for pounding out the ham with a mallet to a uniform thickness of 1-2 inches.  This requires an alarming amount of force and required clearing the counter of all glass as the vinegar bottles were clanking together, well, alarmingly.      I was super grateful that I didn’t need the recipe instructions for removing the bone and skin, thanks to Christie and Kent.  So, the adobo and the ham went into the largest Pyrex baking dish we own and into the fridge for 3 days.

I had planned to cook the ham on a Sunday and figured I could get the squash and purple potatoes at the Ojai Farmer’s Market.  It turned out I needed aji amarillo for the Salsa Criolla Peruana that Presilla suggests with the butifarras.  I was pretty clear that there was no way I’d find these obscure Peruvian peppers living out here in the hinterlands as we do and had figured I would just ask Olivia Chase what she recommended as a substitute.  Here is what is truly great about Olivia and her husband Steve and their remarkable business, The Farmer and The Cook: she had aji limon, a Peruvian pepper with another Spanish name that means “yellow”!  They are incredible for so many reasons, but the variety of peppers Steve grows for Olivia every year cannot be described as anything other than awesome.  Aji limon in hand, I headed home to braise the meat.

The largest pot we have is a 6 quart Lodge cast iron enamel number that weighs about a gazillion pounds and thus lends a certain gravitas to anything prepared in it.  It was just large enough for the ham, the reserved bones, and the aromatics.  But first, there was the matter of rolling and tying the ham, which was covered with adobo, by which I mean bright red-orange paste.  After a best effort with cotton twine using these instructions, it was clear that it was neither tight enough, nor compact enough to survive a four hour boil.  I had reserved the compression stocking in the marinade dish and set about trying to force the ham back into it.  This resulted in making myself and our kitchen look like a CSI set with blood spattered over every surface within 5 feet.  Seriously, Kent hadn’t made this big of a mess processing the whole hog and I nearly destroyed my kitchen trying to tie a roast.  The ham, safely in its netting, and other ingredients were covered with water and set to boil.  The cinnamon stick included in the aromatics made the house smell amazing.

In the meantime, I made the potato and squash salad, which has a whole red onion, chopped finely, in a cumin spiked balsamic vinaigrette, and the salsa, which has another whole red onion finely sliced and tossed with finely sliced aji limon (even deveined and seeded, these suckers are blisteringly hot, but they smell perfume and fruity and taste amazing), lime juice and salt.  Presilla recommends her Cuban bread recipe for the sandwiches, but, I bought a truly wonderful loaf of rustic bread made with wild yeast at the farmer’s market, so skipped that part.  Lest you think I was being lazy, ask yourself whether or not this already seemed like enough work for a ham sandwich.  When the ham had cooked and cooled, we made the butifarras by soaking the bread with the cooking broth and piling it with sliced heirloom tomatoes, salsa Criolla, and very thin slices of the ham.  They were wonderful and especially so with the potato and squash salad.  The ham on it’s own is really good.  It is crazy good on the sandwiches with the salad.

Also, in the way I have come to expect of our magnificent ReRide Ranch Almond Finished Berkshire Hog, it just keeps making more of itself.  Presilla advises I can use the achiote infused fat for Chicken Tamlales from Lima and the broth for a Peruvian pepper pot called arequipeno.  Thus continues my unintended survey of Peruvian cuisine.



About christianathomas

I'm a working mother of two trying to make eating well fit into our hectic lives. I also used to own a completely chaotic bakery. Follow me for tips and tricks on how to get more whole foods into your diet.
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