Friday, May 14, 2010
Ham It Up
Ham, to me, is a production in three acts: baked ham, ham salad, and split-pea soup with ham. Generally every Easter we have ham and I follow the following ritual with a certain compulsive slavishness:
Baked Ham – first make sure that you have a real ham, no boneless varieties, none of those “modern” hams with a cuticle of some sort of plastic coating (ugh!), no ham overly plumped up with a saline or nitrate solution, and, preferably, not a spiral-sliced one (the front slices always dry out when it is baked). And if you must use a country ham (not recommended), make it a sugar-cured one and not a salt-cured one. I am talking about a real old-fashioned smoked ham with all its bones, a nice coating of pork fat and as little skin as possible. Now bake it according to the directions on the label. About a half-hour before it is done, baste it with a glaze made as follows: place ½ cup of dark brown sugar in a sauce pan with ½ cup of orange juice and ½ teaspoon of ground cloves (takes the place of whole cloves stuck in the ham, but you can do it the other way it you must). Stir and simmer this mixture until it is about the consistency of honey. Cover as much of the baked ham as possible with this mixture and return it to the oven, continually basting it with any glaze that slides off. Serve with whatever is traditional in your household (how about some real home-baked beans, escalloped potatoes, and a tossed green salad?)
Ham Salad – the next day, after you have had your fill of ham and Swiss cheese sandwiches or Blodgets (see earlier recipe), take the majority of the remaining ham meat from the bone (with its fat, but not its skin – at least two good handfuls) and put it through a meat grinder (not a food processor) alternating it with the contents of a jar of sweet gherkin pickles. Into this salad base add at least two heaping tablespoons of mayonnaise and a little bit of the pickle juice. Mix well and serve either on some lettuce as a scoop of salad (even better, also add a scoop of tuna salad and some Thousand Island dressing), on a sandwich, or as hors d'oeuvres on some nice crackers.
Split-pea Soup with Ham – dice two ribs of celery (avec leaves is better), one medium onion, and three large cleaned carrots and sauté them in some good olive oil until transparent. Rinse well in a colander one package of picked-over, dried split-peas (I like the green ones, but you can use yellow) and add to the vegetables with a large pinch of salt. Immediately add about three quarts of water, three bay leaves, five whole allspice, and seven whole peppercorns. Then slip in the ham bone with as much meat remaining as you favor. Cover and simmer for at least four hours until the ham meat is falling off the bones. Turn off the heat and let cool until you can safely handle the ham bone. Remove it and pull the ham meat from the bones and discard all the bones. For those with an old-fashioned pallet, you might also save some of the softened gristle. Chop up and put this meat (and gristle) back in the soup, adding more water if it seems necessary. Remove the bay leaves and add about ten squirts of red Tabasco sauce. Reheat briefly and stir well. Eat some of this soup now with some crusty French bread and butter, but it is even better the next day. The soup might appear a little thin now, but, trust me, it will thicken up over night in the refrigerator. The next day, ask over your best friends, heat and devour what’s left.
Applause for the emoter. Curtain …