John D Lee is a chef and restauranteur living and working in Chiang Mai, Thailand. He's always loved to cook.
Put Your OWN Ham in That Sandwich!!!
Home-cured and smoked ham doesn't seem as though it should sneak into any sort of "easy cooking" recipe compilation. It's something that sounds hard to do, that few people know how to do, and that does take a long time, but home-cured ham is actually very easy to make! Home curing your own ham (wet cure) takes just a few minutes of active work, and about a week of waiting until you are left with a ham you have preserved yourself.
There are two kinds of American ham, of course, wet-cured and dry-cured. The famous hams of Virginia are dry-cured, and they cannot, unfortunately, be reproduced in a week inside your refrigerator. The hams that you buy pre-cooked at the supermarket can, and you can make them better at home.
Home curing a ham is quite safe, but you will need to get a hold of some insta cure #1 (also called pink salt or D.Q. curing salt, among other things). This ready to use curing salt is sold as a pre-mixed combination of 93.75% salt and 6.25% nitrite. It is the nitrite that guards against the slim possibility of botulism, and also what gives the ham its rosy pink finish. Nitrite in high concentrations is toxic, so measure carefully (but don't be scared either!!!). You can find this curing salt in better supermarkets and specialty food stores.
Buy a fresh ham leg (uncured pork), a half fresh ham, or a piece of fresh ham in whatever size you're comfortable with. I am using the term "ham" here to refer to the hind leg section of a pig—you must buy fresh, not already cured pork. The size doesn't matter; buy it as big or small as you are comfortable with.
Prepare the brine.
I use a brine recipe from Michael Rhulman's book, Charcuterie (which is excellent).
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- 2 liters of water
- ¾ cup of kosher salt
- 1 cup of brown sugar (1 packed cup)
- 4 teaspoons of pink salt (insta cure #1) (4 teaspoons)
Stir all ingredients together until dissolved. This brine can be multiplied as needed, and if you are doing a whole ham, you will probably need to double it.
Place your pork in a bowl or pot that is large enough to hold the meat completely submerged in the brine, but one small enough to fit in your fridge. Add the cold brine to the pork, and lay a heavy plate on top of the floating meat to keep it submerged.
Keep it in the fridge until done. It will cure at the rate of 2 pounds per day. A large ham will take about a week.
Rinse it off and prepare it in any way you enjoy it. This ham is better if smoked (see here for instructions on hot smoking a fresh ham), but you can just as easily bake it or fry off slices unsmoked, and it will still be great. It has become ham—it is done!
Curing your own ham is pretty easy. I think it tastes better than commercial hams that tend to contain lengthy and questionable ingredient lists, and when fresh pork ham is on sale, it can be very economical. Plus it's kind of neat to make your own ham!
A last tip: If you find the ham too salty, you can soak it in clean water in the fridge for a couple of hours to leach out some of the salt. I don't tend to find that this is necessary.
© 2008 John D Lee