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Advice on buying & storing country ham


dscott
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I need to order a country ham for Thanksgiving and need some advice on buying and storing the ham. I apologize for not having a clue in this regard but in a decade in the South I just ordered what I needed and then ate it (mmm, Bobby & June's biscuits in Atlanta and Padow's in Richmond). I never had to cook a ham myself or even store one.

Unfortunately, trying to find a country ham in New England is as hard as finding a decent lobster roll in Virginia. Therefore, I'm going to venture online.

Here's what I need the ham for:

Ham biscuits brunch/appetizers on Txgiving day, ditto for a brunch party the following Sunday (3 days later), as many breakfasts as I can stomach in and around those two events, and some seriously good soup w/ the bone.

Questions:

1. Smithfield vs. just plain old Country Ham - Not sure that I would know the difference if it slapped me across the face. Therefore, I would lean towards not paying the Smithfield premium, but convince me otherwise. If just country ham, make a case for your state preference (I know those Kentucky people get pretty uppity about their hams).

2. Where to order? I've located a couple of online sources (Padow's, the Virginia Company) but superior recommendations are welcome. This is a splurge, so price is a big factor for me.

3. Cooked or not - This is the big question. I'd lean towards buying cooked and storing it in the fridge when I receive it. The menu above indicates my needs. I would think I can keep it in the fridge for 5-7 days but I'm not sure. I can't see any reason to cook my own. Again, enlighten me if I'm clueless. However, if you tell me to cook my own you need to have some good directions for me too. :biggrin:

4. Bone in or boneless - Since I don't care about cutting around a bone and I want the bone for soup, I don't see any reason to buy boneless. Am I correct?

Thanks so much for any advice y'all can pass along.

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Not an expert, but I'll throw in my 2 cents.

First, the best damn country ham I ever ate was bought at a contry store called Laynes, near Lexington, Virginia. No website, but you can call 540-463-7170. It was exquisite stuff, with a velvet texture and a light hand on the salt, so it didn't need to be soaked, as some country hams do. I left in the fridge wrapped in butchers paper for weeks, the only effect being that it seemed to get a little saltier as the moisture continued to evaporate.

I believe that Smithfield ham is pretty much the same stuff as country ham, it just has a legal right to use the famous name, but undergoes the same curing process.

I can't see the point of buying a baked ham, especially if you're going to shave it atop biscuits (or baked Wellfleets, if you want to have a New England meets the South snack). It will last forever anyway and I prefer the uncooked taste and texture.

I like the bone in, for the same reason you do, to make soup eventually. Also, it's just cooler that way.

I haven't tasted hams from the other places you mentioned, but let me again suggest making a call to Layne's.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Very interesting. That makes me feel better since I always assumed that I was eating cured ham and, frankly, had no sense of it having undergone a heated cooking process other than a quick pan fry perhaps. What does cooking it whole do to the ham, flavor wise? Clearly, I am no Harold McGee.

Thanks for the advice Busboy. Did you get a sense that they cured their own at Laynes? (Not that I'm particularly picky)

As for New England meets the South, how about a breakfast of local Western Mass. maple-syruped pancakes w/ a side of country ham? Not fancy but I'm hungry just thinking about it.

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I recommend Turner Ham. Their sugar-cured country hams are incredibly delicious. You can purchase a whole boneless or bone-in ham. You don't need to soak them. The website has cooking and storage instructions. Turner Ham is a family-run business in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley -- they've been at it a long time. I love stopping by their country store to see all their products. They're really nice people. Highly recommended.

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Very interesting.  That makes me feel better since I always assumed that I was eating cured ham and, frankly, had no sense of it having undergone a heated cooking process other than a quick pan fry perhaps.  What does cooking it whole do to the ham, flavor wise? Clearly, I am no Harold McGee.

Thanks for the advice Busboy.  Did you get a sense that they cured their own at Laynes?  (Not that I'm particularly picky)

As for New England meets the South, how about a breakfast of local Western Mass. maple-syruped pancakes w/ a side of country ham? Not fancy but I'm hungry just thinking about it.

My feeling was that, if they weren't curing their own hams, it was being done by a neighbor up the road. Very un-corporate, not even a muslin sack with their name on it. Just a country store with lots and lots of pork.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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Funny, I was just about to start this thread myself. I look forward to the replies. I've been wanting to buy a country ham, specifically a Smithfield ham, for myself since I was in seventh grade. We took a field trip to Williamsburg and ate at some restaurant near there; I don't remember the name of it. It may not even have actually been that good, but I had three biscuits with Smithfield ham and a bowl of peanut soup. I still dream about that particular meal.

I am almost totally clueless, however, about which brands I might want to try.

Jennie

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Personally, I'd stay away from Kentucky hams. For some reason, they always taste musty to me, and certainly have a lot of mold to scrub off. (Or at least they used to.) Tennessee hams are much better, but Smithfield is king of all.

Cooking the ham whole tenderizes the meat and removes quite a bit of the salt; the ham is usually scrubbed, soaked and then simmered in boiling water. It's a very messy process.* The ham can then be glazed in the oven if desired.

In Tennessee, there are three chains which feature ham: Ham 'n Goody's, HoneyBaked Ham, and Heavenly Ham. I don't know whether these are located outside of the South, but if so, they have very nice whole cooked and sliced ham. Unless I wanted a whole ham presentation, I found that buying the pre-sliced ham was actually the most economical for catering.

But that ham is not the kind you want for breakfast. Breakfast ham is usually not pre-cooked, just cured/smoked. You can't cut slices for ham and biscuits off the same raw ham you use for "fried" with red-eye gravy. You can do both with a cooked ham, it's just that your fried ham won't be as salty or authentic.

Don't buy a spiral sliced ham if you plan to bake it. The things dry out terribly.

*Smithfield is included among the companies now scrubbing and soaking their hams for you. Check out what this cook has to say about country hams:

Country Ham

Ruth Dondanville aka "ruthcooks"

“Are you making a statement, or are you making dinner?” Mario Batali

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Now, don't all you Southerners (I'm talkin' to you, Brooks) post telling me that I "just don't get it" and what good country ham and biscuits you've had, I'm sure there are good ones out there, but I, personally, never been served one outside of my own kitchen.

When I first tasted what usually passes as a "ham biscuit" in much of the South, I was appalled. Two halves of cold, dry unbuttered biscuit, sandwiched with a cold, too-thick slab of too-salty country ham. Dry as a bone and almost impossible to choke down. When I opened my first restaurant I set out to make a truly delectable ham biscuit to deserve the fame.

I developed this recipe (mostly served with a green salad) as a sly, continental take-off, using prosciutto, although I later switched to Smithfield, my favorite country ham, mainly because prosciutto is so difficult to grind.

I mixed a filling using a ratio of 1 part ground prosciutto to 2 parts butter, salted or unsalted depending upon the ham used, and let it come to room temperature before serving. (Hindsight, it would have been good to have added a lot of coarsely ground black pepper to the mix.) While the homemade buttermilk biscuits were still piping hot from the oven, I slathered them with about a quarter inch thickness of the ham/butter mixture and served immediately with the butter dripping.

Oh, the ecstasy!

Because of the logistics, this variation would not work on a buffet table, which is where ham biscuits are likely to be found. But you might try it for one of your breakfasts. (Great use for the scraps, too.)

Edited by ruthcooks (log)

Ruth Dondanville aka "ruthcooks"

“Are you making a statement, or are you making dinner?” Mario Batali

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1. An uncooked country ham can have mites that will eat your ham to a powder over time.

2. Smithfield country hams are the strongest of the hams, not many like the saltiness. The ham bone does make the best pea soup due to the extreme salt and smoke flavor.

3. Scott country Hams http://www.scotthams.com are cured with salt and no nitrates or nitrites. They are milder than Smithfield but still are a true country ham.

Whatever you purchase, have fun!-Dick

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These are very good also.  http://www.harringtonham.com/

I love the Harrington Hams (speaking as a northern new englander), but they are definitely different than the Smithfields and other southern hams. The Harringtons are smoked over corn cobs and maplewood and don't have an overly salty or smoky taste (it is more sweet - I think they are more sugar-cured).

Among southern hams, I have heard that Benton's Country Hams in Madisonville, Tennessee is excellent.

That being said, Harrington's is a delicious ham that does not need to be soaked. Also a good opportunity to order excellent bacon and maple syrup. :biggrin:

"If the divine creator has taken pains to give us delicious and exquisite things to eat, the least we can do is prepare them well and serve them with ceremony."

~ Fernand Point

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As a Northerner with pretensions to a fine Southern Christmas ham many years ago, I bought a mail order Smithfield ham. I loved it, many of the guests did not (too salty). I won't repeat the many caveats here, but will add one: size matters.

If you're planning to scrub, soak, or cook it, think about the size of your sinks, ovens, and so on. I took over the bath tub for a day, then finally, after much roommate abuse, went to the butcher to have the ham cut in half and then to the hardware store to find a bucket big enough to hold the thing while it soaked. Cooked it in two stages.

But I still remember the pea soup I made with that bone.... :wub:

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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The ham mites will reduce your ham to dust over time and I don't think you will want to cook and eat.

In terms of food safety, country hams are not tested for Listeria and Listeria can only be killed by heat or I suppose some sort of disinfectant. Therfore country hams are not safe to eat like prossciuto is or some other cured hams. I have been told that some people do eat them raw but not me.

June Scott at Scott Hams will explain more if you call.-Dick

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