Not everyone can tell you the difference between a fresh ham and a cured or smoked ham. Not even some of the guys who raise the pigs, as we discovered when trying to buy a fresh ham from a farmer down the road from us in rural New England.
“You want what?” the farmer said.
“A fresh ham. You know, from the back end of the pig.”
“You want me to smoke it for you?”
“No, thanks. We’ll take it just as it is.”
“You don’t want to turn it into a ham?”
“It is a ham!” we said.
There was no arguing with him. A ham, he lectured us, was a cured hunk of porcine hindquarter. We knew better, but when you’re the newcomers in a small town, there’s no use riling up the long-time locals.
A ham is the cut of meat from a hog’s hind leg. When unprocessed, it’s simply called fresh ham and can be cooked whole, making it about the finest pork roast there is. As it cooks, its marbled fat slowly melts, infusing the meat with moisture and rich flavor. All it really needs beforehand is a simple rub. Served with a delicious pan sauce, it makes for a memorable feast.
Even with voracious eaters at your table, a roast this size pretty much guarantees leftovers. Here, we’ve come up with two savory breakfast (or breakfast-for-dinner) options—a spin on the croque-madame sandwich and a savory polenta spoonbread—as well as a satisfying lo mein stir-fry. So find a fresh ham, roast and enjoy it, and then keep cooking in the days that follow. It’ll be worth it, even if you have to risk the ire of locals.
What it is
A whole ham is often cut into two half-ham sections: the more common shank end (a thick oval surrounding a center one that tapers to a smaller point) and the butt end (higher up on the hog, with a complicated bone structure that can make carving tricky). For the best presentation, go for the shank end.
How to Buy
Fresh hams can be something of a rarity, but you may be able to order one at your supermarket’s butcher counter. Supermarket varieties run from $3 to $5 per pound, and high-end butcher shops or heritage-breed farms often charge $10 or $12 per pound. Fresh hams are also available online: Try www.8oclockranch.com, which sells bone-in fresh hams for $3.75 per pound.