Friday, February 12, 2010

Project Revisited: Air Dried Ham

During the Fall after returning home from my second stay in France I decided to get a little more serious about my cooking plans. At a local farmer's market I saw a pig farmer hocking his wares and asked if he'd sell me a half a pig. He did so happily and I picked it up a week later from the slaughterhouse in Chenoa, IL. I wanted it in part to practice some butchery, in part to get a lot of meat for less, and in part because I wanted to try to dry a ham, much like those I saw in that first charcuterie shop I wrote about here.

As I mentioned before, it was my first venture into this, so I wasn't looking for an acorn finished wild breed. This was a standard central IL mix, fed 85% corn and 15% soy, but raised just up the road. It came in at about 90#. I weighed out the main cuts and recorded them at:

Ham: 24.5#
Butt: 15#
Jowl: 1.3#
Belly: 8#
Ribs: 2.5#
Skin: 5.5#

These weights included the skin on. I made dried chorizo and bratwurst from the shoulder. I made good bacon and bad pancetta from the belly and jowl. The ribs were good on the BBQ one day. Lots of pork chops and a tenderloin were simple preparations. All the charcuterie preparations were from the Charcuterie book, as usual, except the brats.

But The first project I got to after breaking this down into storable sizes was the dried ham. I already had the ingredients: green ham, salt, and lot of time. I removed the aitch bone, covered the ham in about a pound of kosher salt, put it into a plastic storage tray, covered it in plastic, pressed it with weights on top of a cookie sheet and put it into the fridge. Every few days I would knock off what little salt was left, rinse out the plastic tray and re-apply more salt, turning the ham each time. This went on for a month.

After a month I rinsed off all the salt and applied a thin layer of lard to the entire ham. It was hung to begin its long slumber in a spot in my basement averaging about 65˚. About a week later I noticed some dark spots forming on the skin under the lard so I cleaned them off and re-larded. A week later I noticed the same thing again so i simply removed all the lard and re-salted the ham again for another 2 weeks. I had some trouble with mold on my pancetta that was curing in the basement too, so I decided to move the stuff out of the basement to a less moist place. Again covered in lard it hung in a temperature controlled room (55-60˚) for 6 months. I didn't really know to pay attention to the weight at this phase in my exploration. So I took it down and put it back in the fridge for almost another year.

I think it only stayed there that long because I had moved to Chicago and hadn't gotten home sooner to bring it back. But once I did I was quite impressed with the ham, and myself. It wasn't as dark in color or as rich in flavor as those famous and expensive european versions, but it was rather tasty. It had a nice nuttiness and a fair amount of fattiness. The pork flavor was nice and clean and was accented by the saltiness. The texture wasn't what I had hoped for in tenderness, but it was in no way off-puting. I took some in to my culinary classes and even the French charcuterie instructor was impressed that I had done this and how well it came out. My chefs at work liked it just as much. It made its way into Christmas Gift Baskets, onto anti-pasti boards, and some is still making it onto our homemade arugula-proscuitto pizzas (almost 3 years later).

In the future I will know what steps to change, choose a better quality ham and track the weight loss. But for the first round this ham was a definite success. Some of these same things would apply to the pancetta failure that came from the same pig. But since then everything has been part of the learning process!

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