We’ve tackled the methods behind breathing life into a cured country ham here http://www.scrumptiouschef.com/food/2009/11/20/How-To-Breathe-Life-Into-A-Cured-Country-Ham before but for our latest adventure we wanted to see if a different technique could be employed. When you travel 2000 miles to buy a ham you want to make sure you honor the meat so while this was an experiment it did not happen without a lot of serious research. Our Benton’s ham weighed in at just shy of 18lbs. Allan Benton, the USA master of pork had smoked the beast for 84 hours before curing it for 18 months so the hard work was already done.
Day one through four. Place ham in giant receptacle filled with ice water. Change water every 12 hours for 4 days straight. This is called reverse brining, and it removes much of the salt that has burrowed into the cells of the meat. It also plumps up the concrete block-hard ham and allows it to cook more efficiently.
Day five: Wrap ham thoroughly in heavy duty aluminum foil. Wrap ham one more time so the hunk is thoroughly swaddled. Place ham in hotel pan and add enough hot water so the ham is halfway submerged. Turn oven to 260 degrees. Cook for 24 hours flipping ham every six hours.
Day six: Remove ham from oven, unwrap, let cool for a bit then don thermal gloves and begin plundering the ham. We wrenched giant hunks of meat off the bone til the task was complete Reserve hock for beans.
Take a good sharp knife and begin slicing ham against the grain. This is important as country ham tends toward chewy. We “chipped” the ham as it was going to be served on a bed of grits and we felt like this would give the eaters the most pleasure.
Texas is too far west for there to ever be anything approaching a country ham culture. You’ll have to visit Kentucky, Tennessee, or Virginia if you want to immerse yourself in the world of ham. But at a recent food party in East Austin a dedicated group of gourmands could have sworn they were eating in a wood frame house on the edge of the Smoky Mountains as they powered through plates of Benton’s cured ham prepared using the technique outlined here.