Baked country ham is the centerpiece of a proper holiday meal in many parts of the South—and a culinary achievement comparable to China’s thousand-year-old egg. Its flavor is powerfully porky, deliciously robust, minerally, and deep, and it’s perfectly complemented by the cinnamon and cloves in glaze. Though this baked country ham is nowhere near as salty as an uncooked, unsoaked country ham, it’s still a good idea to have on hand some great relishes, such as watermelon rind or fig preserves or a few pickled peaches, to help take the edge off.
What to drink: A perfectly baked country ham, scented with clove and bracingly salty, is an ideal excuse for serving the South’s greatest wine, made from native Scuppernong grapes. Resist the urge to drink bone-dry wines on this occasion and seek out off-dry varieties made by Duplin Winery in Rose Hill, North Carolina, and lrvin-House Vineyards on Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina.–Matt Lee and Ted Lee
LC A Ham In Every Pot Note
“A baked country ham recipe takes some time to prepare,” caution authors Matt Lee and Ted Lee in the introduction to this recipe. “But it’s not complicated and it’s well worth the effort.” Well, there you have it. In the spirit of learning, we thought we’d share their other thoughts on what sort of ham to specify and any special equipment that’s necessary, too, so here goes: “Before you begin, make sure you have a boiling pot big enough to accommodate the ham. Most cooks arrange for their butcher to cut off the narrow hock end of the ham to make the ham fit better; we prefer to let the hock protrude a few inches above the surface of the water. As long as the meaty majority of the bulb-shaped ham is submerged, you’re in good shape. We’ve found small, 8-pound country hams that fit nicely, hock and all, in an 8-gallon boiling pot.” All that’s missing from this salty, porky goodness with the crackly brown sugar glaze is maraschino cherries. Or not.
Baked Country Ham
- Place the ham under warm running water and scrape any surface mold, seasonings, cobwebs, [Editor’s Note: Um, ew!] or any other matter from the ham with a stiff brush. Place the ham in an 8-gallon stock pot and fill it with enough water to cover the ham. Let the ham soak for 24 hours, changing the water as often as possible, ideally once every 6 hours.
- Change the water a final time and transfer the pot to a stovetop. Add the bay leaves, mustard seeds, and vinegar and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to medium and simmer for 2 hours, topping with fresh water as necessary.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
- Remove the ham from the stock pot and turn off the heat. When the ham is cool enough to handle, use a sharp knife to shave off the skin (but not the fat) from the ham. Score the surface of the ham—meaning fat and any exposed flesh—in a diagonal pattern. Place a single clove in the center of each scored diamond. Pat the ham thoroughly on all sides with the brown sugar.
- Place the ham on a rack in a 9-by-13-inch roasting pan and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the fat has crisped and the sugar has melted into a nice glaze. Let the ham rest on the rack for 15 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and carve.
Originally published December 19, 2009