Ham--- it is everybody’s favorite!
Aside from steak, turkey, and chicken, ham is one of the many meaty party staples all over the world. Whether cured, sweet, or smoked, ham works with almost anything--- from salad to rice, to sandwiches and rolls. It is truly one of the tastiest meats in the world.
So, are you ready to learn more about this delicious and mouthwatering meat? Read on and discover what goes on behind the kitchen and beyond--- from the animal to the plate.
Ham is, basically, a cut of meat that comes from a pig’s rear leg or hind leg. If unprocessed, it is called fresh ham; however, the most famous types of ham are smoked and cured.
Most people picture ham as a thin slice of cured goodness, but in reality, a fresh ham might refer to the half, even whole, leg of a swine. It actually weighs around 9 pounds and totally perfect for special holidays, such as Christmas.
Even though ham comes only from a hog’s hind leg, there are still various cuts you can choose from:
The name speaks for itself. Whole ham cut contains both the shank and butt cuts of the hind leg, and it can have a weight of 10 to 20 pounds.
This is the lower part of the pig’s hind leg. A shank cut is easy to carve, because it only has one leg bone. This cut is not that as rich in meat as the butt end, but it has less fat compared to the latter.
It has two labels:
The butt end is the upper cut of a swine’s hind leg. Unlike the shank end, this part has more meat and relatively more fat than the latter. Also a total opposite of the shank, this cut is hard to carve because it includes the pelvic and hip bone.
Like the shank end, this cut also has two labels:
This is the cut that most people are familiar with. Also known as the best out of all cuts of ham, the center slice measures about ½ to 1 inch thick, and can be cured or smoked. This slice is also called the center cut ham steak.
There are lots of ham types available in the market, but here are the three main ones:
Simply put, fresh hams are raw, uncooked, and uncured. This type of ham still has its skin on (which is great for making cracklins), and usually has pale pink or beige color. Fresh hams can be cooked the same way as other pork cuts (a good example is roasting) and has the same flavor to a delicious pork roast.
Dry-cured hams are prepared and preserved without any injection of water. Basically, the ham is buried in or rubbed with a mixture of salt, black pepper, sugar, garlic, spices, and in some cases, sodium nitrate, sodium nitrite, and phosphates. Then, the dry-cured ham is usually hung for six to 18 months, depending on the variety of the ham. It also dehydrates itself on the process, losing its moisture and purely concentrating its flavor and taste. Often pink or brown in color, dry-cured hams are one of the most expensive types of ham, and they are usually soaked first to decrease the saltiness.
Also called brine hams or city hams, this type is preserved or cured by soaking in or injecting water with brining ingredients like salt, sugar, spices, seasoning, sodium nitrite, sodium nitrate, liquid smoke, potassium chloride, and honey. Wet-cured hams are less salty than dry-cured ones, and they are also sweet and pink in color. Being the most popular type of ham in the United States, some wet-cured hams are already smoked and cooked before sold in the market, making them more accessible and ready to eat. However, there are also uncooked wet-cured hams, so make sure to read the label very carefully.
Aside from the three big ones mentioned, there are other types of ham that you can choose from:
Smoked ham can be either one of the following: wet-cured then smoked, or just smoked even without being cured.
Also called boiled ham, this type has a shelf life of up to three years (room temperature). It can also contain 10% water/broth and can be scraps of meat pressed to fit the can.
Corned ham is usually cured with salt and aged just like dry-cured ones (but not as long), then sealed and packed for storage.
Spiral-cut ham is usually prepared by skinning it, then having it wet-cured and pre-cooked while coated with a sweet glaze. It is then packed with plastic and stored for ready usage.
Unlike other kinds of meat, ham is comparatively low in fat and calories--- it only has around 150 calories per 3-ounce serving. However, it can be high in sodium (depending on the way it was cooked or cured) and can contain saturated fat or cholesterol..
So, how do you store a ham?
It all depends on the type. For example, a store-bought pre-cooked ham can be stored in the refrigerator for one week. If it has been baked, it can be refrigerated for another week to 10 days.