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Country Hams


RaisaB
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Does anyone here know the differences between a cooked and uncooked Virginia ham? If I wanted more of a Serrano or Prociutto type slice, would I buy the cooked or the uncooked? I realize it will be totally different from either one of these but I always thought there was only one type of Virginia ham.

This topic is also being discussed on EG, but the board there seems a bit slow. I hope I am not breaking any rules by posing the same question here. I figured there might be more people on here who were familiar with Virginia hams than on there.

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Does anyone here know the differences between a cooked and uncooked Virginia ham? If I wanted more of a Serrano or Prociutto type slice, would I buy the cooked or the uncooked? I realize it will be totally different from either one of these but I always thought there was only one type of Virginia ham.

This topic is also being discussed on EG, but the board there seems a bit slow. I hope I am not breaking any rules by posing the same question here. I figured there might be more people on here who were familiar with Virginia hams than on there.

A classic Virginia ham is preserved with salt and uncooked. Trying to eat such a thing seems a bad idea. Traditionally it takes three days to cook one of these hams: two days of soaking in many changes of water (to get the salt out) and then boiling it for a while, then glazing and baking it. The only time I had some at somebody's house, it was still awfully salty. I suspect that prociutto is preserved differently, but don't know how.

Where's Dean? I'll bet he has all the answers.

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Greed got the better of me in Kentucky, and after noshing on a simple sandwich of baked country ham on white bread, I turned over my passenger seat to a whole uncooked country ham from Keene's Hams. Fifteen pounds of firm, slightly moldy glory rode beside me for nine hours. The pungent, mouthwatering aroma of extra-aged (9-12 mo) cured pig filled the cabin whenever I parked the car for a few minutes with sunlight hitting the ham.

So, my thought is to cut off and save the hock for a flavor base, slice about half of the remaining ham for fry-ups, and bake the butt-end half. My question regards the salt-removing soaking process viz the ham slices. After rinsing and scraping, should I soak the entire ham before cutting it up, or should I slice first, and soak only the butt end?

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My first country ham, illustrated. Although this is very basic and probably second-nature to a great many Southerners, it was new to me, so I thought I'd document it.

Hanging in its mesh bag, the ham had a pungent-yet-mouthwatering cured-meat funk, and a pretty good bit of mold here and there. If you bumped it, pepper and mold particles would rain down lightly.

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In the sink, I scrubbed off everything that would scrub off, using a clean stiff dishwashing brush. Using a clean hacksaw blade, I sawed off the several inches of hock, plus another inch and change to make sure it would fit into the next series of vessels. Cured ham saws with a consistency somewhere between leather and soft wood. The exposed marrow was still soft, but the meat itself had a gorgeous dark red hue. Depending on whom you believe, well-made and well-stored country hams can be eaten raw after 8 or 10 months, but you may not like the salt level. Keene's hams are aged 9-12 months, and this one had been hanging at home for another month, but I intended from the start to cook it. After weighing the bake- versus boil- question, I decided to go with the latter figuring the cooking liquid would further reduce the ham's saltiness. I placed it in a sanitized 5-gallon bucket and immersed it in cold water, with ice added to keep temps down.

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For the next two and a half days, the water and ice were changed three or four times per day (isn't that what you need to exploit osmotic pressure?) and the ham periodically rinsed. As the skin reabsorbed the water, it began to look less like a dry hunk of salumi and more like the severed leg of a recently drowned hog. Gubeen stopped wanting to look at it. Following the final rinse, I slid it into a huge covered stockpot and began the long mild simmer (bubbles just breaking), periodically skimming off the scum. Four and a half hours later I cut the heat and let it stand covered overnight. Drained but still warm, it looked like this:

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I trimmed off the skin, draped it in a wet towel, and left it in the fridge to chill before we scraped off the remaining fat and cut my guests loose on it.

The flavor is compelling, and nothing at all like a "conventional" city ham. There's a strong savory quality, like a bleu cheese, that becomes more pronounced where the fat was thinner. Within an inch or so of the surface, the soaking process had taken out a lot of salt, but close to the bone it was still fairly salty. Before buying the whole ham from the Keenes, I'd tasted a simple sandwich of slices of boiled ham on white bread, and although delicious it only hinted at the complexity of one of their whole hams. The remaining meat was sliced and bagged into 8 oz portions so I could freeze most of it while keeping some out for sandwiches. It's great on potato bread...the bread's sweetness balances out the ham's saltiness. Definitely an experiment I'll do again.

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Some time ago I had a ham that came to me with instructions, once I got it unwrapped from it's sacking, to start with "scraping off the mold" and then involved some soaking. Was this a Virginia Ham? If it wasn't, what was it? And where can I find whatever it was, now? I'm in Loudoun Co but travel easily enough. Many thanks.

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Some time ago I had a ham that came to me with instructions, once I got it unwrapped from it's sacking, to start with "scraping off the mold" and then involved some soaking. Was this a Virginia Ham? If it wasn't, what was it? And where can I find whatever it was, now? I'm in Loudoun Co but travel easily enough. Many thanks.

Definitely sounds like a country ham. Might have been from Virginia. And if so, possibly it could have been one of those famous hams from Smithfield, Virginia, which imposes further rules on the amount of aging required.

More on the topic here.

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Having bought a huge ripe canteloupe recently, I bought some cooked, sliced country ham at Calhoun's stand at the Old Town market last Saturday. I balled some melon and wrapped it with slivered ham for a local version of Italian melon and prosciutto. The salty and sweet taste was delicious.

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I also used some of the ham in scrambled eggs, and in a salad a la Patrick O'Connell.

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