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Over the summer we were generously given a 20 lb. Tennessee Country Ham.
I’m talking the huge, serious type of smoked country ham that hangs from racks in a smokehouse. After consulting Wikipedia I am well aware of what it takes to salt-cure and smoke a ham and they aren’t cheap, so I really appreciated the gift.
We don’t often have large gatherings at our house that call for such a quantity of meat, so I decided to save it in the deep freeze to make for Thanksgiving.
I have absolutely no experience with such a beast, and I was so grateful for the novice instructions that came secured on the butcher paper. It was a giant ham so I took it out of the deep freeze on Saturday so it would thaw by Wednesday.
The instructions said to soak it in cold water for a full 24 hours before preparing. And by prepare, I mean to boil and simmer it for a long time and then bake it. It is a high-maintenance animal.
But I wanted to try my best to do it justice to get the most out of what was given to us. I had big plans for ham steaks and hash brown casseroles and other meaty ham dishes for freezer cooking.
The giant ham was way too big for my roaster and it was go time, so there wasn’t time to go out and buy or borrow something bigger at the last minute.
I decided to make do and as it came to a boil, I flipped it over every now and again. And don’t take the words “flipped it over” lightly.
It is a 20 pound ham in boiling water, it took some finesse. That thick heavy string and a big pot holder became my best friends for a while.
I covered it with foil to keep the non-submerged part of the giant ham moist and covered it with a lid, and I basted often. After it comes to a boil you are supposed to simmer it for 20 minutes per pound so I felt like I had a newborn all over again.
Flip and simmer. Flip and simmer. I simmered it until 1 a.m. and then let it cool until morning.
After it cools in its own juices, you are to remove it from the water and remove the skin and score the fat underneath.
I had flashbacks of Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs but I managed okay. There were places around the hock end that never really hit the water.
Obviously, the skin that was submerged and simmered the most came off a lot easier than the parts that had to stick out of the pan. I scored the fat (which is simply slicing through it in a criss-cross pattern-thank you Home Ec!) and then put it in the oven at 400 degrees.
The kitchen got very hazy, and the smoke alarm went off. Some of the ham drippings landed on the bottom of the oven and it was burning. The smoke was pretty thick so on this freezing cold morning, I opened the back door and a few windows to the kitchen.
The vast majority of the ham turned out really well. But as we sampled the product, we were a bit aghast at how salty it still was. I used to watch Martha Stewart every now and again (before she went to the clink) and I remember her saying once to slice a few potatoes in half and throw them in a salty dish to absorb the extra salt.
After Danny sliced it up, we took as much ham as we thought we’d eat and I put it in a pot, filled it up with water and threw a few sliced potatoes in and let it simmer. I skimmed off ladels full of the broth and replaced it with fresh water, and did this for about 3o-45 minutes. It did help, but now the ham wasn’t in its prime.
I planned ahead time wise for any mishaps so we still ate Thanksgiving dinner by noon, and I bought a small backup turkey breast in case the ham project was a disaster. So we had both turkey and ham for our small spread for a family of four.
What did I learn? Plan ahead time-wise AND kitchen supply wise. With a much bigger roaster it may have ended a little better. It was still edible, and I was still able to keep plenty of ham for future cooking. It will be best in small doses.
Though I put up a nice Rocky IV-style fight, the end score is still Giant Ham-1, Audra-zero.
But it was still a very nice, relaxing and special Thanksgiving. Holidays aren’t really that fun if mom is all stressed out, so I made a plan B for meat, and just went with it. It was a good experience, we were able to have a few good laughs, and we tried something new. No big whoop.
And besides, the apple pie I made from scratch while I was babysitting the ham made up for ALL OF IT! Two thumbs up!