Ordinary hams suit most occasions, but occasionally a special “country ham” enters the refrigerator for an occasion or as a gift. These special hams have a firm texture and taste thanks to a diet of peanuts and long, dry cure. Country hams may carry a covering of mold, often removed along with the hock by the butcher. They are also surprisingly salty due to the curing and smoking processes that give them their rich taste. Desalting these hams requires special treatment.
Soak the ham for 24 to 30 hours in a large kettle of tepid water. Soaking removes surface salt, occasionally visible as crystals on the skin, or rind, of the ham.
Change the water after 12 to 15 hours to remove the maximum amount of salt before proceeding. If the ham is extremely salty, change the water more frequently when a scum forms on the surface.
Remove the ham from the kettle and discard the soak. Scrub the ham with a vegetable brush under lukewarm water to remove any residual mold.
Wash and dry the kettle. Place a round cake rack or other rack that fits in the bottom to hold the ham off the bottom of the kettle. Put the kettle and ham back on the stove top burner.
Fill the kettle with cold water and bring it to a boil. Simmer the ham for approximately 20 to 30 minutes a pound until the meat is fork-tender. Skim the salty fat that rises to the top as the kettle simmers. The ham’s internal temperature should reach 150 degrees Fahrenheit.
Remove the ham from the kettle with meat forks and peel the rind back. Remove all but 1/2 inch of the fat with a fillet knife.
Score the fat diagonally, stud with cloves, add glaze and finish the ham in a roasting pan, glazed side up, in a preheated 350 degree Fahrenheit oven.
The traditional glaze for country hams is a thick mixture of melted brown sugar and bread crumbs.
Avoid over-simmering the ham. It continues cooking after removal from the simmering kettle. It will only need about 45 minutes in the oven -- just long enough to crisp the glaze.
Country hams are hung by the leg to cure and smoke. Unless you own a hacksaw and want to attempt removing the hock yourself, ask your butcher to remove it.
Read the directions on your ham’s packaging. Some country hams are presoaked.
Your kettle must be large enough to contain your ham and boiling water -- and leave several inches of head space.
Handle your simmering kettle carefully; clean it thoroughly after soaking.
Always wear oven mitts to move the simmering kettle and roasting pan.