Jarret Hughes has held numerous cooking positions at cafes, diners, and family restaurants.
He takes a "keep it simple" attitude toward cooking, preferring olive oil to truffle oil.
Jarret strives to inform readers about the history of various foods while offering professional
advice regarding food purchase and preparation.
"Eternity is a ham and two people."
Thank goodness. I finally polished off the remainder of my
20-pound Thanksgiving turkey about a week ago. Donít get me
wrong. I love turkey. However, I have a very low tolerance
for leftovers. I grew up in a household that seemed to always
have leftovers. Iím sure my mom cooked an original meal every
once in a while, but it always appeared that she cooked one
meal the whole family could eat for a week straight.
Once I grew up and started cooking for myself, I vowed never
to eat leftovers for more than three days in a row. Therefore,
cooking another turkey for Christmas would just be creating
more leftovers ó Iíd be eating turkey well into the new year!
Instead, Iím opening a whole new can of worms. Iím trading
in my turkey leftovers in for a fresh batch of ham leftovers.
If eternity is a ham and two people, just think of how long
it will take me to get rid of all those leftovers solo!
There are two basic types of hams: city (also known as
ďurbanĒ) and country. While both types of ham come from
the same part of the hog (the hind leg), the processing
method and taste of each type of ham is very different.
Almost all hams that you find in the grocery store are city
hams. The name comes from how the ham is processed and not
where the pig grew up. City hams are usually sold fully or
partially cooked, and have been cured with brine made from
water, salt, and preservatives (nitrites and other chemicals).
Brines can also contain a small amount of sugar, so be sure
to check the ingredient list. Most city hams have not been
aged or smoked (or smoked very little). Since little
processing is required, these are the cheapest hams you
There are really only a few things you need to think about
while buying your holiday city ham:
1. Look for a ham that has not been honey cured or sugar
cured. If you are strictly prohibiting your consumption of
sweeteners, you may want to pass on these types of hams.
Keep in mind that hams that arenít labeled as honey cured or
sugar cured can still contain these sweeteners. However, the
sweetener should only be present in small amounts and it
not be easily detected by the pallet.
2. Choose a ham with bones. There are three primary
types of ham: boneless, partially boned, or bone-in. Itís
true that boneless hams can be much more convenient to carve.
However, I recommend buying either the partially boned or
bone-in varieties. You will find that the flavor of a ham
with at least some bones remaining is far superior to a
3. Beware of canned hams. Most canned hams are actually
pork parts that are pressed together with gelatin to in the
shape of the can. Unless you grew up on canned hams and
actually like the taste of them, I wouldnít suggest wasting
your hard-earn money on a canned ham. And I certainly wouldnít
recommend one for the holidays!
City hams certainly make for a fine meal. However, if you
want a special treat, I suggest buying a country ham from
your butcher, specialty store, or online.
If you can get your hands on a country ham, I highly recommend
them. Country hams can cost quite a bit more than city hams, but,
for special occasions, they are well worth the cost. One of the
most popular varieties is the Smithfield ham. Your butcher should
have no problems ordering a country ham for you, but there are
also several online sites that sell country hams. The Smithfield
Collection is an excellent place to start shopping for a country
In contrast to city hams, country hams are dry cured for several
months (usually 6-12 months). In other words, instead of injecting
liquid into the ham, country hams actually lose weight due to the
drying process. This creates a much more concentrated ham flavor.
Due to this drying process, however, special care must be taken
when preparing uncooked country hams. After drying in a sack for
several months, country hams usually develop mold on their surface.
This is nothing to worry about, but the mold must be scrubbed off
prior to cooking the ham. Simply take a brush (that old potato
brush that you donít use anymore will work great!) and scrub your
ham gently under lukewarm water. Again, country hams are a little
more work than city hams, but the result is worth it!
Country ham should be soaked in water for 24-48 hours to remove
some of the saltiness from the dry curing process and to bring
some moisture back into the ham. Simply place the ham in a large
stockpot or cooler, fill it with cold water so the entire ham is
covered, and replace the cold water a few times (otherwise your
ham will sit in warm, salty water, defeating the whole purpose of
this process.) Once your country ham has had its bath, it is ready
to cook. Of course, if all of this sounds like too much work,
there are also several fully cooked country hams available.
Ham is very easy to cook. Simply place the ham in a large roasting pan
and add any seasonings that you like. Many people like to stick whole
cloves into their ham and smother it in brown sugar prior to baking.
These days, I usually omit all spices and sugar and cook my ham plain.
Bake the ham at 325į F until it reaches an internal temperature of
135į F to 140į F.
Remove the ham from the oven and let it rest for
20-30 minutes before slicing. Since ham is generally very salty, it
is best to slice it as thin as possible. A big, thick slice of ham
can be a bit overwhelming to many people.
Whether you decide to cook ham, turkey, or something entirely different
for your holiday meal, be sure to look around the table and be thankful
for all that you have in your life. Many people arenít nearly as lucky.
Copyright © December 2003 Jarret Hughes and Low Carb Luxury
Title photo Copyright © 2003 Neil Beaty and Low Carb Luxury