Late night TV host David Letterman has a thing about canned ham. When he was a local weatherman, he lost his job when he described an upcoming storm as having the potential of “hailstones the size of canned hams.” Years later on his TV show, he would occasionally give canned hams away as gifts to audience members. Perhaps Dave was making the statement about his Midwestern upbringing, that these pink, perfectly shaped ovals with their mysterious porcine jelly, were typical of heartland fare.
For many families, the culinary centerpiece of the upcoming Easter holiday will be a ham; and, the typical grocery-store variety found on many tables won’t be much more interesting than Letterman’s canned hams. With a little extra effort, however, you could offer your loved ones a delicious and distinctive ham.
There are three basic types of hams found in the United States. These include fresh hams, city hams and country hams. The city ham is the most common version, soaked or injected with a brine solution and then boiled or lightly smoked. Some are canned and some are wrapped in plastic. There is not a thing wrong with these city hams, but for my money the country ham is the way to go.
Country hams are dry-cured and aged for a few weeks to several months. Over the last few years, artisan country hams have crept into the market. Many of these hams are being made regionally by smaller producers. One larger operation that still uses these artisanal practices is Snake River Farms in Boise, Idaho. Their hams come from a heritage breed hog called a Berkshire.
Country hams have less water content then city hams and many people describe them as having a much more intense pork flavor. Since salt is used in the dry-curing, these hams are usually soaked in water before cooking to introduce moisture back into the meat and to dilute some of the salt.
Regardless of which type of ham gets served at Easter, a terrific sauce, glaze or topping is a tasty addition. Some old-school treatments like the pineapple rings and maraschino cherries are still popular, and the tried-and-true raisin sauce remains a favorite. One glaze that I adore is a simple root beer glaze. The sweetness works great with the salty ham, and the creamy spiciness of the root beer is sure to please.
If making a root beer glaze I suggest using a high-quality root beer, preferably one sweetened with pure cane sugar rather than corn syrup. Jones makes just such a root beer, and it’s available now in most grocery stores.
If you celebrate Easter and plan to serve ham, consider inviting a country pig to your celebration and offering him a little root beer.