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Wednesday, April 25, 2007 10:02 pm

Can the can for fresh ham

By all means, skip the foul odor and sci-fi texture

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Untitled Document My mother called. She and her man had ham-in-the-can for Easter dinner. Her voice was filled with a mixture of disgust and disappointment. The meal was nearly inedible, she reports, with a foul odor and sci-fi texture that she couldn’t erase from her memory. She would be making ham salad of the leftovers, which I translated as manmade meat with mayonnaise. A few days earlier, one of my favorite cantankerous people ranted about baked ham, the canned ham’s slightly better looking sibling. “It tastes too much like flesh,” he hissed. I couldn’t agree more. Even all doctored up at home with brown sugar, pineapple rings or clove studs, the wet-cured ham of America is among the weirdest things to put on your plate. There’s not enough time to get into dry-cured country hams, so I’ll get right to the point: Scrap the can and buy a fresh ham. If you’re thinking that “fresh ham” sounds like an oxymoron, you should stop. The word “ham” refers to the part of the pig (hip and hind leg) rather than how it’s processed. Translated, fresh ham is a big ol’ pork roast cushioned by a thick layer of fat that flavors the meat — meat that tastes like meat and not like a can.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O’Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com
Fresh Ham Roasted with Rye Bread and Dried-Fruit Stuffing Adapted from Molly O’Neill in the March 27, 1994, issue of The New York Times Magazine

One fresh ham, boned and butterflied, about 18     pounds (adjust spice rub and stuffing amounts     accordingly for a smaller ham) Seven cloves of garlic, minced 1 tablespoon caraway seeds, crushed 4 teaspoons salt Black pepper to taste 1 teaspoon olive oil One medium onion, chopped 3 cups rye bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes 1/4 cup pitted prunes, coarsely chopped 1/4 cup dried apricots, coarsely chopped One tart apple, peeled, cored and cut    into 1/2-inch cubes 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, chopped One egg, lightly beaten 1 cup chicken broth
Have a butcher bone and butterfly the ham and score the fat in a diamond pattern. Combine five cloves of the garlic, 2 1/2 teaspoons of the caraway seeds, 3 teaspoons of the salt and pepper to taste, and rub the mixture over the inside and outside of the pork. Set the ham aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat the olive oil in a skillet, add the remaining two cloves garlic and the onion, and cook until soft, about five minutes. Let cool. Place the cooled onion/garlic mixture in a bowl with the bread cubes, dried fruit, apple, rosemary, egg, remaining 1/4 teaspoon of caraway seeds, the remaining teaspoon of salt, and pepper to taste. Mix until well combined. Chill if necessary. You don’t want to put hot stuffing into cold meat. Open out the pork, spread the stuffing, fold the pork around it, and tie the package securely with twine. Place in a large, deep roasting pan and pour in the chicken broth. Bake, basting from time to time, until the roast reaches 160 degrees, when an instant-read thermometer is inserted in the meat, about three-and-a-half hours (or about 15 minutes per pound, depending on the speed of your oven.) Let the ham stand for 15 minutes. Degrease the pan juice and serve separately. Slice the meat..
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