Why does my ham taste like ass? – Neighbor Husband, MA
Um, can you be more specific? – Pseudo-Chef
We were recently told, "you can't ruin a ham". Always ones for a challenge, we proved them wrong. While it may be impossible to ruin a cooked ham, ruining a fresh ham is easy! So how DO you prepare a fresh ham? – Neighbor Wife, MA
Okay. Your question was ringing some faint bells, but I could barely make out the melody through all the other ringing in my ears, so I had to call in reinforcements. I found www.ham.com to be remarkably not helpful (especially the lettuce and grape sections). But once I expanded my search parameters, I found that there is, indeed, a significant difference between a cooked ham and fresh ham, and it goes beyond the obvious distinction between cooked and raw.
The ham we traditionally associate with Easter is cured pork. The act of covering the ham with salt (or injecting it with brine) and letting it sit for a long, long time, not to mention the optional smoking process, changes the flavor and texture of the meat, and gives you that distinctive hammy goodness that we all (more or less) know and love. Most cured hams these days are already precooked and just require a reheat that still takes frickin’ forever. I can’t imagine how long the really good uncooked country hams take. Probably about as long as your average resurrection.
A fresh ham is simply uncured, uncooked pork. In other words, the end product will be like a really big pork roast. You can prepare it like a regular ham, but it’s still going to taste like plain old pork.
Was the ass flavor you experienced actually unanticipated porkiness when you expected hamtasticness? Because I got thrown for a loop one time when I was served sweet potato fries when I thought they were just regular French fries. I thought something was seriously wrong with those fries (rotten potatoes? rancid oil?), but it turns out I’m just dumb. Once I recalibrated my expectations, deliciousness followed.
Natalie Runyan, butcher of John Dewar in Newton, MA, says that it actually is possible to make a fresh ham taste good (remembering Rule #1 that it’s not going to taste like ham). She cooks hers covered at 325°F for 3½ hours, and then uncovered for another hour (170°F is the interior temperature you're aiming for). According to Runyan, some people score the skin and put fresh pineapple and orange slices on top, but I think this just perpetuates the misconception that it’s going to taste like ham. It’s not. Let’s go another way. Alternatively, she says, you can scatter garlic and onions all around it like a pork roast. Now, we’re talking. Here’s another simple recipe that may or may not be good.
So, here’s my advice. If you want your ham to taste like ham, just buy a cured ham. However, if you like the occasional piece of ass, now is as good a time as any to experiment with your very first fresh ham.