Say the words “Easter dinner,” and images of ham come immediately to mind.
Salty, smoky, sweet and usually spiral-sliced, ham has become as closely associated with Easter as turkey is with Thanksgiving.
One reason is the season. In the days before refrigeration, hogs were slaughtered in the fall and what could not be eaten at the time — such as the hams — was preserved by curing, a process that could take a good portion of the winter months. So by the time spring and Easter rolled around, hams were ready to be carved up and consumed.
Other reasons are more symbolic — as a way for Catholics and Protestants to differentiate themselves from their Jewish neighbors who often celebrated Passover during the same time period or because the pig was considered a symbol of good luck among some European cultures.
Whatever the reason, ham is usually the centerpiece of the Easter table. Here are some facts and tips to consider when planning to make ham part of your holiday celebration.
The first thing to know is that ham comes in three basic forms: “fresh,” “country” and “city.”
1. Fresh ham
A fresh, or “green,” ham is just that — a portion of a pig’s back leg that has not been cured or treated in any way. These can be a bit intimidating and time-consuming to cook (up to 7 hours for a whole ham), but aficionados believe the extra effort is worth the flavor a fresh ham can have.
2. Country ham
Country ham is a highly cured piece of pork, rubbed with salt, sugar and spices, then hung up to dry for months to produce a dense, rich meat similar to prosciutto. For some, country ham can be a bit too intense a taste and might be better enjoyed in small portions.
3. City ham
What most Americans think of when they think of ham are so named to differentiate them from country hams and within this designation there is a good deal of variety. These hams are cured using a wet brine, and sometimes additional liquids are injected into the meat to speed the process.
4. Read the label
Knowing a bit about how your ham was prepared can assure you of getting the best ham for the money. Look for hams labeled “Ham with Natural Juices.” This means less water has been used in preparing it. Avoid hams labeled “ham and water products” or “ham — water added,” which can contain 10% or more water by weight.
5. Going around in circles
The spiral-sliced ham was the dream of Harry J. Hoenselaar, who founded the Honey Baked Ham company in Detroit and patented a device that could cut a whole ham into thin, serving-size slices. Other ham companies followed suit, and the spiral-sliced ham became a fixture of buffets everywhere.
6. Ready-to-eat vs. ready-to-cook
Most spiral-sliced city hams are sold fully cooked and can be eaten cold or at room temperature. Some hams are labeled “ready-to-cook” and need to be heated to an internal temperature of 155 degrees before serving.
7. In a glaze
For some, ham just isn’t ham without some sort of sweet outer coating to balance the meat’s saltiness, be it brown sugar, honey, maple syrup or pineapple. Some prefer to add a bit of spice with the sweet, with the addition of mustard, cayenne or hot sauce. Possibilities are endless.
Honey Mustard Glazed Ham
The Made In Oklahoma Coalition offers its take on a sweet-and-spicy glazed ham, using ingredients from Oklahoma companies.
1 (approximately 10-pound) Hamlet spiral-sliced smoked ham
1 cup Andrew’s Honey Bees raw honey
⅓ cup Griffin’s Butter Pecan Syrup
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
4 tablespoons Hiland unsalted butter
3 tablespoons Seikel’s Oklahoma Gold mustard
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh Scissortail Farms thyme
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Place the ham in a roasting pan, cut-side down, and pour ½ cup water into the bottom of the pan. Cover the pan tightly with foil. Bake until the ham is heated through, about 2 hours.
3. Combine honey, syrup, vinegar, butter, mustard, thyme and salt in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat just until mixture begins to simmer, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
4. Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees. Remove foil from pan, and brush about half the honey mixture over ham. Bake 15 minutes. Pull out ham from oven and brush with remaining glaze, cooking another 10 minutes or until ham is well-browned and bubbly. Be careful not to let the glaze burn.
— Recipe courtesy MIO Coalition
Sweet and Spicy Dry-Rub Glazed Ham
1 (5-pound) pre-cooked spiral-cut ham
½ cup honey powder or maple sugar granules
¼ cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
1. Heat the oven to 275 degrees. Use paper towels to pat dry the ham, then set it, cut side down, in a shallow baking pan. Set aside.
2. In a blender or food processor, combine the remaining ingredients and process until the ingredients are reduced to a fine powder.
3. Gently pry apart the tops of the spiral cuts. Sprinkle about ⅓ of the seasoning mixture over the ham and push it down between the slices. Cover loosely with foil. Set the ham on the oven’s middle shelf. Cook for 45 minutes. Remove the ham from the oven, turn the ham on its other side, then sprinkle another ⅓ of the seasoning mixture over it, again gently working it into the cuts.
4. Cover the ham with foil again, then return to the oven. Cook for another 30 minutes or until the ham feels warm all the way through but is not steaming hot.
5. Remove and discard the foil. Sprinkle the remaining dry glaze over the top of the entire ham. Turn the broiler on in the oven and place the ham under the broiler for 2 to 4 minutes. Watch closely: You want the glaze to bubble and caramelize, but you don’t want it to burn. When the ham is burnished to your liking, remove from oven and let rest for 15 minutes before serving.
— Recipe adapted from Elizabeth Karmel, Associated Press
Sweet Southern Slow-Cooker Ham
1 bone-in fully cooked ham (about 5½ pounds)
1 cup apple cider
½ cup dark brown sugar
⅓ cup bourbon
¼ cup honey
¼ cup Dijon-style mustard
4 sprigs fresh thyme
1. Place the ham in a large slow cooker. Whisk the cider with the brown sugar, bourbon, honey and mustard. Slowly pour over the ham. Scatter the thyme sprigs into the slow cooker.
2. Cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 8 hours, or until very tender. Remove ham to rest on a cutting board.
3. Pass the remaining cooking liquid through a fine mesh sieve into a saucepan. Simmer for 10 minutes or until slightly reduced. Cut the ham into chunks or slices. Brush the cut pieces with the cooking liquid before arranging on a platter. Serve warm or room temperature.
— Recipe adapted from Yummly.com