Country hams are terrifying. They’re dessicated, mold-ridden and possessed of a barnyard funk that could conceivably cause a soul to rethink their entire relationship with the animal kingdom.
They should not – for country ham is an American national treasure that rivals the finest porcine offerings of Italy, Spain and any other of the world’s ham-curing cultures. Here is what to do if you find one.
It'll likely show up in a muslin sack with a logo of some sort on it. Wash that and keep it around; it's a conversation piece and you can strain fresh cheese through it and amuse your guests.
Take out the ham and discard any paper in which it is swaddled. It will, as aforementioned, be slightly appalling. Rectify that as best you can by running it under cold water and scrubbing any visible mold from it with a wire brush. You might consider purchasing a dedicated ham brush if you find you have the space for it. I don't know your life or your ham needs.
Locate an extremely large pot or clean plastic bucket and place your bathed ham within. Place this vessel somewhere it will not be knocked into by dogs, children or the clumsy and begin to ferry cold water to it in pitchers. If you are exceptionally strong, you can do this step before you identify your final ham locale, but then you'll be toting a large, heavy container of ham water across your home. Again, I don't know your life.
In either case, you'll need to cover the ham entirely in water and place a lid on it. Some people, such as the husband of the Virginia Slim-smoking gas station cashier who sold me my maiden ham several years back, like to use Coca-Cola instead of water. That's their business.
No matter your liquid of choice, bid adieu to your ham go about your life. After a full day has passed, get the water out of the pot by any means necessary, rinse your ham and go through the whole rigamarole once more.
A 48 hour soak is sufficient for some people, but I like to have full use of all my finger joints and the amount of residual salt (that's what you're doing, by the way, with the water - getting the salt out) is a tad too much for me and I go for 36.
Once the ham is sufficiently soaked, give it a final rinse and stick it in a large pot on the stove and boil it with some bay leaves, a couple of tablespoons of mustard seeds, three cups of cider vinegar and enough water to cover the ham - or at least the part below the bone. Bring that to a boil, then let it simmer for two hours. This is how The Lee Bros. do it, and you should trust them
Then turn off the heat, carefully remove the ham, and wait for it to cool a bit. This is for your own personal comfort. When you feel you are able to address the ham without pain, slice off the skin, but not the fat. The fat is the best part.
Score said fat in a cross-hatch fashion so as to form precious fat diamonds, and demarcate each with the thrust of a single clove. Then encrust the whole megillah with a thick layer of brown sugar - some mustard if you're feeling frisky - and bake the whole thing in a 375° oven in a pan with a roasting rack for about 45 minutes, an hour, or until the sugar has glazed up all heavenly-like.
Remove your ham and admire it for the American marvel that it is. Do that for at least twenty minutes before you carve it into thin slices and serve it to people who you deem worthy.
It would be sufficient on its own, but biscuits are a customary accompaniment, and pickled peaches as well. You will not have time to pickle peaches between now and Thanksgiving and you surely should not have truck with any that are on the market currently. Either invest in a time machine, befriend a grandmother with a stash of jars, or opt for peach preserves. It's okay, if not ideal. You'll know better for next time.
In closing: ham. For America.
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