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How to Season a Pork Leg

by Julie Christensen

A pork leg can seem intimidating simply because of its size, but seasoning one is no harder than seasoning a small pork roast. Use either a wet brining method -- which improves both the texture and flavor -- or a dry rub, which is simpler and less cumbersome. Season the pork leg at least a day or two in advance. This extra preparation makes all the difference in the flavor of the final product.

Pork Leg 101

Pork leg, also called fresh ham, is a large piece of meat, weighing between 15 and 25 pounds. A whole leg can feed 20 to 25 people, although you can buy half legs for smaller groups. Half legs are labeled as shank or butt portions. When processing half legs, butchers often cut out the best pieces for ham steaks, so it's worth your while to buy a whole leg if you're feeding a large group. Pork legs are not always sold in grocery stores, but you can special order one. Like most pork cuts, the meat can be bland and dry, so careful seasoning is critical.

A Salty Soak

Brining is one method of seasoning a pork leg. Because pork legs are lean, they can be somewhat dry. Brining with a saltwater solution adds flavor and improves the texture and juiciness of the meat. To brine a pork leg, combine 1 cup salt to 4 quarts water in a large stock pot. Bring the mixture to a boil to dissolve the salt. You can add other seasonings at this time, such as sugar, brown sugar, pepper, rosemary or thyme. Allow the brine to cool to room temperature before adding the pork leg. Refrigerate the pork leg in the brine for up to two days at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below. A pork leg will need a large container and ample space in the fridge. Ask your baker for empty frosting buckets, which are the right size for brining a pork leg, are food safe and come with a lid. When it's time to roast the pork leg, don't rinse it. You can add additional seasonings at this time, such as rosemary and thyme, but go easy on the salt.

Rub It In

Brining is one of the few seasoning treatments that alters the texture of the meat, but a savory rub adds plenty of flavor -- with less effort. Combine salt, pepper, garlic, coriander, thyme, rosemary or any other desired seasoning in a food processor to make a thin paste. Make a few cuts in the pork leg and massage the rub into the meat. Cover the pork leg loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate it overnight. The salt and seasonings permeate deep into the flesh for a perfectly seasoned roast. Colored spices also add color to the roasted meat.

The Big Roast

Careful roasting can accentuate the flavors of a well-seasoned pork leg. Roast a pork leg at 350 F, for three to four hours, or until the crust is golden brown and a meat thermometer inserted in the thickest portion of the leg registers 145 F. At this point, you can glaze the pork leg with a sauce for even more flavor. Combine fruit preserves or chutney with mustard, soy sauce or sherry for a sweet, yet savory, glaze. Brush this glaze over the pork leg and roast for a few more minutes until the sauce is bubbly.

About the Author

Julie Christensen is a food writer, caterer, and mom-chef. She's the creator of MarmaladeMom.org, dedicated to family fun and delicious food, and released a book titled "More Than Pot Roast: Fast, Fresh Slow Cooker Recipes."

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