Ham, the Other Pink Meat: Real Food for Real Life


Smoked Ham a Perfect Food

Smoked HamWhen I was a young kid, I loved certain foods, especially those associated with holidays and special occasions: Pierogi were my decreed birthday meal from the time we started the tradition that whoever was celebrating a birthday chose the menu; most special occasions involved some special meat or seafood as the entree. Turkey for Thanksgiving, Ham for Christmas, Smoked kielbasa, cabbage rolls and home-made breads for New Years. I was a perfectionist when it came to food, what my parents disparagingly termed a “picky eater.” Flavors, aromas and mouth-feel have ruled my preferences my entire life. Headcheese? Gag me with a ham bone! I had trouble enough with lime jello because of the mouth-feel! And fat? Fug’et-about-it! Nothing that felt that gross in my mouth would ever reach my stomach. “You shall not pass!”

My ideal meat was and remains a cut with all the savory goodness of roasted flesh without bones or fat and gristle that interfered with the succulence of the experience. “But hams have a generous layer of fat,” you point out. Yes, they do, but the bulk of the fat has been banished to the outer fringe of the meat, rendering it easy to excise and toss to the dogs if you have no further use for it. A slice of ham dripping with Red-Eye gravy (made from the fat the dogs didn’t get) is heavenly lean and flavorful. A perfect food akin to Rock Lobster Tail and Prawns.

The Devolution of a Smoked Ham

After Pulling all you have left is dog treats.

After Pulling all you have left is dog treats.

My family and I celebrated Yule almost a week ago, and the main event was a feast of smoked ham shank, red-eye gravy, smashed potatoes (with skin, whipped with butter and sour cream instead of what the Dairy proletariat claims is “milk”), and Brussels Sprouts. Even though hams from the grocery claim to be “cured,” what passes for cured now a-days doesn’t approach the awesomeness of a truly smoked ham, so I usually smoke the ham instead of roasting it, but on Yule this year, the Great Lakes was inundated with rains for over three days, so I roasted the ham rather than smoke it.

I also brine smoked hams, just as I brine turkey and other fowl prior to roasting, so 24 hours before the roasting, I brought to a boil a quarter cup of sea salt, garlic powder, sage and savory herbs and spices; trebled the resulting brine with water; added the ham; submerged the ham; then set it in the refrigerator to marinate overnight. BTW – I HATE hams polluted by wine, sweetened in any way or covered in pineapple. Meat should taste like meat. If it needs to taste like fruit or candy to you, skip the meat and eat some fruit and candy.

Prior to roasting, using a very sharp knife, I score the skin and fat to release the juices and to assure that my rub gets absorbed into the meat itself. My rub depends on what I have at hand, garlic, Bays, Slap Ya Mama, are all good ingredients. I then roast the ham in a covered roasting pan for 15 minutes/pound at 325 degrees F until the last hour when I remove the lid to allow the skins and fats to crisp a bit.

After the initial feasting, one of the greatest things about smoked ham is that it serves as the basis for many meals to come.

Pulled Ham – Way Better than Pulled Pork

Pulled Ham in Red-Eye gravy

Pulled Ham in Red-Eye gravy

Pulled Ham over Pasta

Pulled Ham over Pasta

Having been adopted by Cajuns and the progeny of Rebels in the South, I’ve learned to love Pulled Pork, though I prefer it over pasta rather than in a sandwich, and I usually finish it in a gravy so that it clings to the noodles. Pulled Ham is Pulled Pork only more delicious. After the initial roasting of the smoked ham, I continue to roast it for an hour or two each day after the feast while I’m enjoying other foods until there’s some Bark on the meat and the remaining fat. What is Bark? It’s blackened meat and fat. I first learned about Bark in my early twenties when the choice between eating and drinking were a virtual coin-toss on any given day.  I placed a young man’s portion of cured ham on the Hibachi I kept on my apartment balcony and cracked a Canadian beer while I prepared my ham. Many beers later I realized that I had charred the entire exterior of this sad little ham. But being young, broke and headstrong, I decided to eat the Burnt Offering anyway. IT WAS GLORIOUS! The charring not only improved the smokiness of the meat, but locked it in, so although the exterior was covered in Bark, the meat inside was tender, juicy and outrageously flavorful. I burned all my hams on the grill after that until I learned how to smoke meats.

The Remains of the Day or Week

15 Beans? I'll bet I can find more...

15 Beans? I’ll bet I can find more…

Having feasted on Double Smoked or Roast cured ham and Pulled Ham it’s time for some incredibly delectable soup. We’re talking Bean, Pea or what I call Food-Group soup – a soup that includes almost everything in the Food Pyramid (except fruit – Have an apple you Vegan Nazi).  The foundation for this soup is the Pulled Ham we prepared previously and although it is bathed in red-eye gravy, this too will enhance the flavors of your pea, bean, or food-group soup. I prefer bean soup as a run up to Food-Group soup. I like pea soup, but its uni-flavor grows monotonous so I prefer bean and usually start with a dried been medley for the soup, 15 Bean if I can find it (the more the merrier), but I also add lentils even if they are included in the 15-bean medley. First I rinse and soak the dried beans over night, then add them to the Pulled Pork and Red-Eye gravy. I chop a whole onion into rings, then quarter those so that there is some variation in the size of onion, double the liquid in the stock pot and  about 15 minutes before serving I add some chopped spinach and sliced mushrooms to the soup.

After a couple days of feasting on 27 Bean soup (I’ve usually found some more to add along the way), it’s time to convert the bean soup to Food-Group soup. I add water to thin the broth, pearled barley, shredded carrots, chopped celery or Bok Choy, wild and imprisoned rice, Brussels Sprouts, cabbage and tomatoes for an incredible vegetable soup. (I’ll upload pics of Food-Group soup as soon as I get to that stage of my humble Ham leftovers)

Yeah, New Moon sits on Max to show how much she loves him...

Yeah, New Moon sits on Max to show how much she loves him…

The ham bones and all of the trimmings from what was initially a Yule feast go to Maximus and New Moon and I even mix the leftovers, including the soups into their kibble. Like their Nekkid Monkey (Me) they prefer real meat but would never turn their noses up to any delicious meal.

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