Monday, January 6, 2014

Wood-Fired Ham Stuffed with Apples and Herbs

One of the wonderful things about pigs is their legs.  The back legs are especially wonderful.  When you get a whole pig you get two wonderful hind legs that will be divided into either one or two wonderful hams each.  The pig we got from A Little Hope Farm had two of these wonder hams for each leg.  Contrary to what you may think, these hams are not all the same size.  For whatever reason, the butcher decided to cut one side a bit shorter than the other, which is fine with me because sometimes it's wonderful to have a bigger ham and sometimes a smaller ham.

There are two basic kinds of ham. Cured ham is what you normally find at the store in the deli. It looks pink and slices very nicely for sandwiches and omelets.  Curing hams is not hard to do, it just takes time, but it is not what I want to talk about today.

Fresh ham is exactly the same as a cured ham, but not cured. Like a beef roast you can do almost anything you want with a fresh ham.  For my purposes, I needed a big chunk of meat that could feed up to ten adults for a dinner party. The largest ham I had in the freezer was an 8.5 lbs. with the bone in.  After thinking about it for a while, I turned to Jane Gigson's classic, Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery.  She has a whole chapter on fresh ham recipes.  Actually, in true French style, there are very few recipes but a lot of variations.  Page 221 has a fresh ham variation for pork Normandy that involves apple cider glaze.  This was inspirational.

To begin, bone the leg and butterfly the ham.  Because hams taper from the hip to the knee you have to butterfly the leg in such a way that the leg opens up and becomes a more rectangular shape. This will make it easier to roll the roast back together.

Fresh ham, butterflied with apples and herbs.
Butterfly the leg and fill it with diced granny smith apples, fresh sage, salt, pepper, thyme, and some bay leaves.
Rolling a ham

Tying a ham
Roll the whole thing and tied it. This makes for a very nice pork roast.

However, I wasn't done.

I knew that I'd be roasting this thing over a wood fire in the smoker.  My intention was not to do a smoked ham, but smoke would be involved and I didn't what the whole thing to turn black.  So I took some of the skin that the butcher had packaged and wrapped the ham in its own skin.

The skin is irregularly shaped and very thick with fat. If you try this technique, you may need to square the piece then shave down the fat until you have about a quarter inch remaining on the skin.  If you do this, try to keep the extra fat in nice thin sheets that you can freeze and reuse for other things (like draping it over lean beef roasts to keep them moist while they cook).

Having the ham wrapped in a layer of fatty skin did two things.  First it protected the outside of the ham from becoming black with smoke. The skin did shrink a little bit, but I had it tied on pretty good so it stayed almost completely in place throughout the whole cooking.  I was surprised to see that the skin also became a kind of hard shell around the roast. This was good as it protected the meat from flare-ups and over smoking.  The second big benefit was that the fat basted the meat the entire time it was cooking.  This prevented the meat from drying out while it was cooking and it also reinforced the nice porky flavor of the meat.

My original plan was to remove the skin for the last 30 minutes of cooking to allow the meat to brown a bit, but that was not possible because the skin had hardened around the roast like a protective case.  Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures when it was done.

To go alongside the roast, I wanted something other than a sauce.  In keeping with my island flavors theme for the dinner, I made an apple-pomegranate chutney.  Together this made for a delicious, local and seasonal main course.

So if you find yourself with a whole pig and are wondering what to do, try doing a fresh ham roast with apples and herbs.  If you wrap it in the skin and cook it over a wood fire, even better.

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