Gam Exam: Ham & Lamb
Good Friday. We are only three days into Passover and yesterday Shop Rite was already out of the good whole wheat matzo. There’s no way we’re going to make it through the week with our current stash. Well, we have plenty of the regular Yehuda matzo, but eating too much of that will keep you from being regular.
Anyhow, that’s a personal problem.
While I was at the market today I was seriously considering picking up a bit of Prosciutto di Parma. I really wish I could find a local source for the La Quercia, but I’ll take what I can get. Now to some, it may seem strange for someone to obsess about matzo in one breath and speak in loving tones of pork in the next.
I get the disconnect. So allow me a moment to clear it up. Keeping kosher for Passover is a symbolic ritual to commemorate a holiday. Observing the kosher dietary laws has nothing to do with the holiday whatsoever, since the Israelites only received God’s laws while they were wandering in the desert. Hope that clears it up.
That said, I’ve never quite had the chutzpah to serve a ham on Passover. It’s tempting though. Lamb makes sense because it’s spring. And the leg is a good cut for feeding a crowd. How this transformed to a pig’s leg that has been cured and smoked is a mystery to me.
But regardless of which joint of meat you plan to eat, I’ve got some thoughts.
My signature leg of lamb preparation used to be a sexy number from Jacques Pépin. It was a high heat roast in a 400 degree oven. But the special part was a fresh garlic and rosemary paste that would get studded throughout the meat. Mrs. Fussy loved this and I’d make it for special occasions when we were expecting a crowd. Now thanks to the miracle of the Internet, you can watch how easy Jacques makes it all look in the second segment of this video.
Recently I’ve become enamored with braising everything in olive oil. It started simply enough with the Tonno del Chianti. But I said to myself, “If I can do this with pork, I bet it would work great with lamb.” And it does. Just last week I got myself a leg of lamb and trimmed it up. The larger muscles of the upper leg were cut into big cubes, and turned into the most tender and succulent lamb my family has ever tried. The best part is all the olive oil can be reused for roasting vegetables, finishing beans, or even making insanely delicious croutons.
The only ham I knew as a kid was deli ham. It wasn’t until my later 20s that I was introduced to the hot ham roast. Yeah, that pretty much blew my mind. Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to ask for the recipe and technique, which I’m happy to share with you below.
Start with an unsliced bone-in half ham. And the first thing you have to do is take some of the salt out. So rinse it off in the sink, cover the joint in foil, and sweat it in a 350-degree oven for 90 minutes.
Those accumulated juices can be discarded. While waiting for the ham to cool, prepare a simple glaze made from half of a box of brown sugar, 2T of Gulden’s spicy brown mustard and ½t of vinegar. It shouldn’t be runny, but if it is just add more brown sugar.
The final phase is to score the outside of the ham, apply the paste, poke some cloves into the meat and finish the whole thing in the oven. It takes another 90 minutes at 350 degrees, but this time uncovered.
Based on what I thought I knew about food, this didn’t sound like it could possibly work. However, I tried it and it totally does. Note, this ham can be served warm out of the oven or you can wait for it to come to room temperature.
This sucker gets its own category. This is not a normal ham. It comes spiral sliced and already glazed. If you are lucky, the clerk handed you an instruction sheet. Read it. If you didn’t get one, click here and read it now. This is important so you know that I’m not making up the following:
HEATING MAY CAUSE THE HAM TO DRY OUT AND LOSE FLAVOR.
There is no compromise on this. You can’t warm up a slice in the microwave. You can’t just rest it in the oven after it’s completed some other cooking cycle, “just to take off the chill.” All you can do it to take it out of the refrigerator well in advance of serving so that it’s properly room temperature. This is the only way to preserve the balance of juiciness, saltiness and sweetness. More importantly, it’s also the only way to preserve that amazingly thick and crackling glaze for which you paid top dollar. So just don’t do it.
Have a great Easter. Hope you find lots of eggs and enjoy the heck out of your families.