Make your ham last through the holidays
November 28, 2012
We just finished our leftovers from Thanksgiving and here’s another great holiday to cook for, Christmas. Americans, just like the rest of the world, are getting ready for another feast of massive proportions. With all of our own traditions and the ones passed down from generation to generation, Christmastime brings us back to our roots. We make pies, and cookies, lefse, and roca, lutefisk and mincemeat, cioppino or gumbo. The memories of Grandma in the kitchen baking everything you can think of and ultimately the main course, a beautiful ham. Ah, that Christmas ham! You could smell that mouth-watering ham cooking for hours, smothered with a sweet glaze, golden smokey brown, ready to be carved and eaten. Delicious!Ham is from the old English hom meaning hollow or the bend of the knee. Ham is generally the hind leg of the pig which is cured and smoked. Other areas of the pig have been labeled ham, like picnic ham. This item comes from the front shoulder and is different altogether. It may be smoked and cured, but it’s not as tender, and not considered traditional ham. Ham, traditionally is the largest main course dish served for Christmas dinner in the U.S. In many cultures it has been a staple for centuries and the United States is no exception.In every culture you see similar items that are related to our ham. In China, they have been curing hams as far back as the Ming Dynasty. In Italy or the Roman Republic since 300-400 B.C. The Italians manufacture a specific type of ham called Prosciutto di Parma. Made in the Parma Province, it is strictly regulated to make sure a quality product is produced. The process for this wonderful type of ham includes drying and curing for more than 12 months without spices or smoke used on them. One of Germany’s best selling hams is the Black Forest ham. It must be produced in the Black Forest region and is seasoned with garlic, coriander, pepper, juniper berries and other spices that are slow smoked with fir brush.Greek ham or hiromeri was traditionally prepared right before Christmas using fresh pork, sea salt with other seasonings and then smoked occasionally using red wine.Ham in the United States has been a tradition for centuries and the many cultural tastes and traditions have formed what we call our ham today although, even here regionally, you have dramatic differences in what someone will call ham. In the eastern and southern United States, you have what they call country ham which is very dry, hard and extremely salty. So much so that they are usually soaked to remove a lot of the salt before cooking. They are referred to as a Smithfield ham. Out West, popular hams are not as salty, and we usually prefer them sweeter. My process for making hams is a combination of maple sugar curing and slow smoking over hickory chips for hours. This process is not a extremely long process, but produces a wonderful flavor that is not too salty or to sweet, and is not full of water. In today’s society we like everything to be ready for us, and the food industries try real hard to accommodate that. In 1957, Henry Hoenselaar patented a machine that spiral slices a bone-in ham. Spiral slicing is a process by which a bone-in ham is sliced with one continuous cut from bottom to top while leaving the ham still attached, quite ingenious really. In 1981, his patent had run out, and spiral sliced hams were starting to be mass produced. While spiral slicing helps with carving, you still needed a good quality ham to start. Along with spiral slicing, Americans and their love of sweets has adored the sweet glaze we now sell on the ham to make it even easier to prepare. Not all people agree with the spiral ham theory as traditionalist’s still like that plain old fashioned hickory smoked ham. Yummm!A friend of mine years ago, told me about how awesome his grandmother’s ham always turned out, and through the years, dinner responsibilities had been handed down the generation ladder as Grandma was getting older. As his aunt was cooking the family dinner at his Grandma’s house while Grandma napped, the family came to the realization that they could not find the “ham pan” that Grandma used every holiday. This pan was legendary and was the reason for the best ham year after year. They looked high and low. With all the commotion, Grandma woke up and asked what was going on. They told her they were looking for her famous ham pan that made that ham taste so good all of these years. Her reply was “I threw that pan away last year. It wasn’t the pan that made the ham special, it was the only pan big enough to fit the ham in!” So buy a good ham for your family for the holiday. Ham is not just a holiday food any more. I recently heard that in the U.S., ham and cheese sandwiches still are the most popular sandwich ordered today. Ham also is a great recipe ingredient, bringing that sweet smokey flavor to many recipes, which brings me to our recipe today. Being in business for 30 years you see the trends of foods for different holidays. One that I have never really understood was chicken cordon bleu on New Year’s Eve. It always amazes me just how many I sell. Maybe it’s the ease of the preparation or how simple and good they are. Whatever the reason, chicken cordon bleu has some basic ingredients. Chicken, cheese and some of that delicious left over ham you had for Christmas. So try this recipe for your New Year’s dinner and enjoy that Christmas ham all over again!Chicken Cordon Bleu recipe4 boneless skinless chicken breasts8 slices of ham4 slices Swiss cheeseBread crumbsOn wax paper flatten the chicken breast with a mallet until they are about 1⁄4-inch thick Place two slices of ham and a slice of Swiss cheese on top of the flattened chicken breast, and then roll so the chicken is around the outside, tucking the ends in. Then roll in the bread crumbs to coat the outside. Place on baking greased baking sheet, and bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes and serve.Happy holidays.• David Theiss is a long time resident of Carson city and the Owner of Butler Gourmet Meats in Carson City.