Ham is the name given to the thigh of the pig, a joint of approximately 10 to 15 pounds, which is prepared in a special way called curing. Basically, curing in-volves rubbing the ham with a mixture of salt and saltpetre or soaking it in brine, but this can vary according to local custom – some hams are smoked before they are cured for instance, some are not.
Because of these regional differences, types of ham are usually identified by their place of origin. In England, for instance, York ham is a pale-dried lean ham with very faint pink-coloured fat, while Cumberland ham is unsmoked, sweet and delicate in flavour. American Virginia ham is peach-flavoured from the fruit given to the pigs before slaughtering, and smoked over fires of apple and hickory wood. In Italy, Parma ham, a sweet-flavoured, cured ham, is served raw in the thinnest possible slices as an hors d’oeuvre, as is Jambon de Bayonne, a type of French ham. Prague ham, a delicious
Czechoslovakian speciality, is first salted in large vats, then steeped in brine and, finally, smoked with beech wood before maturing.
A whole ham is cooked by boiling or baking. To boil a ham, first soak it over-night in cold water to remove some of the saltiness. Place the ham in a very large saucepan and pour over enough cold water to cover. Over high heat bring the water to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the ham, allowing 20 minutes per pound and 20 minutes over. Allow the ham to cool in the water and, when it is cold, remove the skin and sprinkle the white fat with breadcrumbs. It is now ready to serve.
To bake a ham, first boil it as above. Preheat the oven to fairly hot 375°F (Gas Mark 5, 190°C). In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 ½ pounds of flour with enough water to make a firm dough. On a floured surface, roll out the dough to an oblong about
1-inch thick and cover the ham completely with it. Seal the edges of the dough by pressing with your fingers. Place the ham on a rack in a roasting tin. Place it in the oven and bake, allowing
10 minutes per pound and
10 minutes over. About
20 minutes before the end of the baking time, remove the pastry and the skin from the ham. Return the ham to the oven for the remaining baking time, and, when it is ready, garnish it with breadcrumbs, a brown sugar glaze, etc.
Ham may be cut into smaller pieces, such as steaks or slices, and grilled , fried or pot-roasted. It is perhaps most delicious served cold, when its full flavour is brought out.