Ode to Country Ham

Posted by Robert on September 2nd, 2014


I have become bored with lackluster food. I don’t know if it’s an age thing or that my taste buds have dulled over the years— I really don’t care what the reason is— but bland, lifeless, boring food just doesn’t cut it anymore.

This thought occurred to me as I was having dinner with my wife in the new Indian restaurant that opened in my hometown. I was getting lit up by the so-called “medium-spiced” dishes and loving every minute.

Food doesn’t have to be spicy to be interesting, that’s not what I’m talking about. It just has to have soul. There has to be something in there that says, “I care about how this tastes.” There has to be depth and complexity in the flavor profile. I am no longer interested in a meal that appeals to the lowest common culinary denominator. I want flavor. I want excitement. I want soul.

That is why I can’t eat most ham nowadays. Seriously, I have reached a point in my life where if it’s not country ham, or some type of cured ham like prosciutto, I’d rather skip it altogether. That’s not an elitist, foodie statement declaring that, “I am above eating deli-style ham,” not at all. One can order country ham at Cracker Barrel, and you don’t get any more accessible than Cracker Barrel (and for the record, their country ham is damn good).

Country ham has soul. There is a depth to the flavor profile that just isn’t there in those deli-style, water injected hams and stuff that is bought in the pressed meat section of the grocery store.

I defy anyone to eat a grilled ham and cheese sandwich made with pressed, deli-meat ham and then eat a version made with country ham and tell me that the former is better than the latter.

Today I would rather eat a slice of grilled country ham with my eggs than a few pieces of bacon. People who know me know how hard it was for me to write the previous sentence, but it’s true. That’s not to say that I might change my mind tomorrow, but that’s the way it is today, country ham all the way.

My friend Allan Benton cures great bacon, but his hams are even better.

You can have your grits, but the most southern of all breakfast dishes is a homemade biscuit with blackberry preserves and a slice of grilled country ham. Perfect. To me, that tastes like the south.

I have to doctor grits up with too many things to get them out of the “bland and boring” category and into the “food-with-soul” column. With blackberry preserves, country ham, and a homemade biscuit all I need to do is open my mouth and take a bite.

Deli-style hams are wet-cured or injected with brine and curing agents. The cheaper hams are injected with water. Many chain-operated sandwich shops use weak water-injected ham on their sandwiches.

Deli hams are moister, but the moistness comes from water and other ingredients that are injected into the muscle that also add to the weight. So, not only are you buying ham that tastes less interesting, you’re paying for water.

Country hams are dry cured and aged from six months to three years. They are rubbed with salt but the salty flavor of the meat doesn’t come from the salt on the outside, it’s from the aging. It’s how our grandparents and their grandparents, and their grandparents ate ham. It’s how we should eat ham.

Jamon Iberico is considered the world’s best ham. It is made from pigs that are raised on acorns in the southern part of Spain about an hour outside of Seville. My son and I spent a day going through the entire process from pigs grazing under the oaks to a facility that had 150,000 hams hanging from the ceiling. It was amazing.

Spanish-style ham is different from country ham and is displayed on the counter of most restaurants in Spain where small portions are thinly shaved off of the whole ham which is displayed on the counter for all to see.

Jamon Iberico, and its Italian cousin prosciutto, are cured for over a year but aren’t smoked like their American counterparts. All three are good, but the most readily accessible full-flavored pork available to us here today is country ham. It’s full of flavor, full of soul, and ensures that you never have to eat boring lifeless ham, ever again.

 

Country Ham & Pimento-Cheese Biscuits

2 cups self rising flour

1 Tbl sugar

2 Tbl unsalted butter- cut into small pieces and chilled

1 /4 cup homemade pimento cheese, crumbled

2 /3 cup buttermilk

2 TBL melted butter

Country Ham

Preheat oven to 375.

In a food processor combine flour and sugar and pulse to mix. Add butter and pimento cheese pieces pulsing until mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. Transfer mixture to a large mixing bowl and make a well in the center. Pour buttermilk into the well and gently blend together the dough, being careful not to over mix.

Allow the dough to set for 10 minutes and then turn dough onto a floured surface.

Gently knead dough for one to two minutes. Roll out to 3 /4-inch thickness.

Cut 1 1 /2-inch circles from the dough and place them on an ungreased baking sheet. Brush the tops with the melted butter.

Bake 12-15 minutes.

Cut biscuits in half lengthwise and lay a small piece of country ham in the center.

Serve warm.

 


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