The tradition of eating ham on Easter began long ago before refrigeration existed. Meats that were slaughtered in the Fall and not used within the Winter, would be cured for the Spring. Therefore there would be many hams ready just in time for Easter, making them show up on dinner plates at this time.
What is Ham?
Most of us know what a ham looks like, but as defined, ham is pork that comes from the hind leg of a hog. It is pink in colour and can be eaten in many different ways.
How to Prepare Ham
When it comes to cooking, preparation is often the key ingredient. You will want to select a ham that is suitable for your needs. The amount of people you will be serving will determine what size of ham to buy. If using bone-in ham, you will generally need 1 pound per person and 1/3 pound if using a boneless ham.
Deciding whether to use bone-in or boneless ham will depend on your personal preferences. Bone-in hams provide more flavour during the cooking process, but are trickier to carve. If you decide to use a bone-in ham, remember that the bone can be used afterwards for flavouring soups or other dishes.
There is also the decision to make between purchasing the meat fresh or a pre-cooked variety. Fresh hams will require more cooking, but have a superior fat-to-lean meat ratio which adds great moisture and flavour to the ham. Pre-cooked hams on the other hand, require less cooking as you are really only heating the meat and are easier to carve. These hams have usually been cured or smoked and have a nice flavour and texture due to these processes.
Ultimately, selecting your ham will depend on how many people you intend to serve and what type of flavour and texture you prefer.
How to Cook a Ham
As mentioned above, cooking time and temperature will depend on whether using a pre-cooked or bone-in fresh ham and the size of your meat. Before cooking, allow your ham to sit at room temperature for 1-2 hours and pre-heat your oven before putting your ham in. If you have decided on a fresh-ham, trim the fat if necessary, leaving a ¼ inch layer. You can also score the ham so that glaze can adhere to it easier, not to mention it looks pretty.
Fresh hams must reach a temperature of 160 degrees F to be cooked safely, whereas pre-cooked hams should reach 140 degrees F. The time to reach these temperatures will depend on the size of your ham, but you can refer to the table on this Ham 101 website to determine how long yours will need. Pre-cooked hams will often have cooking directions on their labels you can refer too. Remember you can always use a meat thermometer to ensure your meat has been cooked to the proper and safe temperature. Most hams require some type of liquid during cooking, whether it is water or cider. The proportions of this will depend on the size of your ham.
Another handy tip: line baking pan with aluminum foil to make for an easier clean-up.
Glazes and Flavours
What would a perfect Easter ham be without the perfect glaze?
Glazes can come in all different varieties, including brown-sugar, maple syrup, or pineapple flavours to name a few traditional choices that compliment ham well. A simple brown-sugar glaze recipe includes just three ingredients: brown sugar, honey, and mustard. Various glaze recipes can be found quickly and easily online depending on your personal tastes.
Whatever glaze you decide on, you usually don’t have to add it until the last hour of cooking. You also don’t need to baste the ham with its own juices as usually they will be too salty.
If you want to try something other than a glaze, rubs also can add a unique flavour to your ham if you are someone who prefers the flavour of spice and herbs.
Your perfect ham is ready and it is time to impress your guests, but your work isn’t over just yet.
Don’t attempt to carve your ham straight out of the oven. It should be allowed to cool for 10-30 minutes before being cut depending on its size.
Always use a sharp knife and proper cutting board. If you have chosen a pre-cooked ham without a bone, your task will be fairly straight-forward as you simply have to slice the ham in ¼ inch thick slices. If you’ve cooked a bone-in ham, begin by cutting a few thin slices from the roundest side of the ham. From here you can use this as a base for your other slices until you hit the bone.
Arrange the slices on a large serving platter and garnish with parsley or perhaps pineapple slices if you have used that fruity-flavoured glaze.
Don’t forget to grab yourself a slice before all your guests devour your delicious ham!