Hams dry-cured, hickory-smoked, and aged in and around Smithfield, Virginia, have been legendary since the days Thomas Jefferson and Queen Victoria ordered them special, and today there is still no more ceremonial ham for the formal buffet table. Lean, dark-colored, delicate, and richly flavored, a Smithfield is so beautifully processed that it can be sliced paper thin and served raw like prosciutto. On the other hand, when the ham is slowly baked, and then subjected to a luscious glaze such as this one with bourbon, honey, and pecans, the result is a culinary masterpiece. If you're truly offended by the saltiness in foods, you can soak a Smithfield for no longer than about six hours before baking it, but remember that you do so at the expense of distinctive flavor. Unlike other country hams, Smithfield ham is very rarely fried with red-eye gravy for breakfast in the South and is always served in thin slices.
Preheat oven to 325°F.
Scrub the ham well with a stiff brush under running water, position it on a rack in a large baking pan, add the water, cover, and bake for 2 1/2 hours, adding a little more water if necessary.
Meanwhile, combine the bourbon and apple juice in a saucepan and boil over moderately high heat till reduced to about 1/2 cup. In a bowl, combine the brown sugar, pecans, honey, and cayenne and stir till well bended. Add the bourbon mixture and stir to form a paste.
Remove the ham from the oven and increase the heat to 400°F. Remove and discard the skin and all but about 1/2 inch of fat, score the surface in diamonds, and rub the paste evenly over the top and sides. Return the ham to the oven and bake, uncovered, till the surface has a glossy mahogany glaze, about 30 minutes.
To serve, let the ham stand out for about 30 minutes on a platter before carving into thin slices.
Learn more about James Villas' cookbook Pig: King of the Southern Table by reading Nadia Arumugam's book review from the June/July 2010 issue of Fine Cooking.
Photo: Lucy Schaeffer