I Love You, Ham!

I think ham belongs on a list of superfoods. Juicy slices of baked ham are heaven on a plate. And ham is so versatile: ham and eggs for breakfast, ham and cheese sandwiches for lunch, ham and bean soup, sliced ham as a snack, and a big old ham dinner!I’d dreamed of curing my own ham, but was afraid to try. What if it didn’t turn out right and I wasted a beautiful cut of pork and all that time?

The more I thought about it, though, the more I was convinced that it couldn’t be that hard. The curing is the part that requires some planning, and I could handle that. I had a fine piece of pasture raised pork from a hog I recently butchered. The cut was a picnic cut from the shoulder primal cut of the hog. I had removed the trotter and used it in a batch of scrapple, and I removed the head of the loin to cure as a spicy coppa. That still left a beautiful cut to cure into a ham.

The lower part of the shoulder is the cut for picnic ham
The first step was to weigh the entire piece, including the skin and bones. The weight was 4.8kg. I estimated the weight of the bone at 800g (note: this was accurate as the weight of the bone after consuming the ham came to 794g). I subtracted the estimated weight of the bone from the total. I planned to use 3kg water for the brine, so I added this to the weight of the meat to use 7kg as the base weight.I wanted the salt to be about 2.8% of the total, and used cure #1 at a rate of 0.25% of the total. I made a spreadsheet to make it easy, and so I would have a tool for the next time, assuming this worked! The numbers came to 196g salt and 17.5g cure #1. I dissolved these in water. I wanted to add some sweetness to balance the salt, and make it more forgiving if my numbers were off (they weren’t). So, I added 120g of our backyard honey to the brine. Thoroughly dissolve the salt, cure, and honey in cool water.

To cure, I placed the picnic roast in a 2-gallon sealable bag, poured in the brine, squeezed out the air, and sealed the bag. Because the brine totally covered the pork, there was no need to flip the meat during the curing process. I put the bag of meat and brine in a plastic food lug just in case it leaked. I put the whole thing in the refrigerator.

Because my salt level was not really high, I had no worry about over-curing the ham and making it too salty. Still, I left it in the cure for 20 days. At the end of 20 days, I removed the picnic from the brine, gave it a good rise with cool water, and patted dry with paper towels. The ham should not be bone dry, but not dripping wet either. I let it rest on a rack, uncovered in the fridge overnight.

Next is the application of smoke. I set up The Porkulator to cold smoke. To do this, I build a small wood fire, enough to get a few good coals to sustain a very low smoking fire. The temperature must be kept below 100F. I tracked the temperature using a wireless iGrill2 probe, and it was typically in the 70’s during the smoke.

Starting the cold smoking
A friend of mine sent me a nice box of pistachio wood chunks from Arizona. I put 1-2 pieces on the hot coals and let them generate smoke. It was cold overnight, so I let it die down over night and re-started the next day. In all, the ham got about 36 hours of good smoke. I had achieved the color I wanted, and that is a good indication the meat has taken up a good smoke level.Again, I let the ham rest in the fridge overnight to allow the smoke to equalize. The next day, I scored the skin and placed in a 325F convection roasting oven with a probe set to shut down when the meat reached 150F. Low and slow!

While the ham was roasting, I mixed up a glaze. 3T homemade mustard (recipe follows), 2T light brown sugar, 1T honey, pinch of cloves, small amount of water to make it brushable. Brush the glaze over the ham and place back in the oven until it bubbles a bit. Rest the ham and slice.

Ham is done baking, now for the glaze
I served it with some pickled dilly beans from last summer’s garden and a glass of ale. Delicious, and plenty left for sandwiches!
Let’s Eat!
Homemade Whole Grain Mustard
100g yellow mustard seed
50g brown mustard seed
50g mustard powder
200ml cool water
120ml vinegar (I used homemade apple cider vinegar, but any vinegar will do)
3g turmeric powder

Salt to taste

Soak the mustard in the water, mixing to make sure the powder is moistened thoroughly. Allow to hydrate and build heat. The longer this sits, the more heat will build. I let mine go for an hour. Add the vinegar, turmeric, and a small amount of salt. Mix thoroughly.  Put in covered jar and let sit at room temperature overnight. Taste and adjust salt as needed.  At this point, I store in the fridge. The mustard can be mixed with other ingredients to flavor to your taste (honey, garlic, horseradish, booze, herbs, wine, you name it.)

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