About Country Hams
As popular as real country ham can be here in Kentucky, most people don't know anything about them. The way the ham is stored, the way it is cooked, and even the way it is sliced is important -- but not difficult.
Follow these simple guidelines from us and our friends at Finchville Farms Country Hams and you'll have perfect country ham every time!
How to Store your Country Ham
Before the ham is cooked it should be hung in a cool, dry place. Do not keep it in a refrigerator -- a garage or basement is a good place to hang a ham for storage, but remember that it will drip moisture and continue to mold as it is stored. The mold that is on the outside of the ham occurs normally, and does not affect the quality of the meat.
How to Prepare your Country Ham for Cooking
- Scrub the ham in warm water with a stiff brush to remove any mold and rinse well.
- Cut off the ham hock (see diagram) and save for future use -- making bean soup, seasoning green beans, etc.
- Soak the ham for 12-24 hours in water to help remove some of the salt and add moisture back to the cured ham. Changing the water every three or four hours can help reduce the salt levels even further, but since the ham is cured with salt there will always be a somewhat salty taste.
- Discard the water when you finish soaking the ham, and you're ready to cook!
How to Cook your Country Ham
You will need:
- The prepared country ham (as above)
- 1/2 cup vinegar
- 1 cup dark brown sugar
Place the ham in a large roaster, skin side up and cover two-thirds of the ham with fresh, cold water. Add the half-cup of vinegar to the water and place the cover on the roaster. Put the ham on the stove and bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Allow the ham to simmer 15-20 minutes per pound or until a meat thermometer reads 160° -- generally 4-6 hours depending on the size of the ham. You can also tell when the ham is done when the large bone in the butt end of the ham becomes loose and protrudes. Add water if necessary during the cooking process to keep the ham two-thirds covered.
When the cooking is complete, allow the ham to cool in the cooking water. When the ham has cooled, pour off the water and carefully remove the skin and trim away the excess fat. You can remove the bone if you want to.
Place the ham on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Score the surface of the ham in a diamond pattern and stud with cloves, and then pat the brown sugar onto the ham. Place the ham into a 350° oven and bake for 30 minutes.
Allow the ham to cool to room temperature, slice thinly as directed below, and enjoy!
How to Carve Country Ham
- Place the ham with the fat side up.
- Start slicing at the hock end, cutting at a 45° angle -- across the grain of the ham. The shank meat and hock is good for soups and stews or for flavoring foods, and the shank slices (more toward the center) are very tender and juicy.
- Always cut slices as thin as possible, unless you intend to fry it later. In that case, make the slices about 1/4" thick. Center slices make the best cuts for making fried country ham.
- The butt end of the ham is good for soups, stews, or for frying.
- Save the ham scraps!
How to Store the Leftovers
After ham is cooked, it should be tightly wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated. Unlike other meats, cooked cured ham will keep in the refrigerator up to six weeks.
Country ham can be frozen, but there is a loss of quality and the flavor is not as good afterward. We have found that frozen and then thawed ham tends to have a much more pronounced ham taste and it also tends to taste saltier. The only reason to freeze cooked ham is if you would not want the rest for more than six weeks and it would go to waste otherwise.
How to Use Leftover Ham
Leftover cooked country ham is very versatile:
- Chop or grind the leftover ham scraps and use in scrambled eggs, omelets, quiche, potato salad, ham salad, etc.
- Small leftover slices can be wrappoed around cheese or fresh fruit for appetizers.
How to Fry Country Ham
- Ham should be cut in slices about 1/4" thick. Trim off the rind and cut notches in the fat to keep the ham from curling.
- Place the slice of ham in a hot skillet (300°). Brown the ham quickly on one side, turn over and brown the other side. Repeat until the fat is translucent. Do not overcook the ham! -- it will make the ham tough and dry. Many people who say they don't like fried country ham have simply been the victim of an overzealous cook: brown the meat, don't turn it to shoe leather.
- If the ham is too salty for your taste, soak the slices in milk or water for 30 minutes before cooking.
- Since you're making fried country ham, go ahead and make some Red Eye Gravy to go with it for a real taste of the Bluegrass.
Red Eye Gravy Recipe
Here's a quick and easy recipe for Red-Eye gravy. You will need:
- The skillet used to fry the ham (above)
- 1 cup Coffee
- 1/2 cup water
- Salt, Pepper to taste
- Tabasco Sauce to taste (optional)
After you've finished frying the ham, pour out any grease remaining in the pan, leaving about 2 tablespoons. Add the coffee and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium for five minutes, scraping the bottom of the pan to release the browned bits stuck there.
Add salt, pepper, and Tabasco (if desired) to taste just before serving.