Country Hams - Smithfield Ham and Other Good Ham Brands
Country Ham refers to a popular type of American Ham, known for its richly salty taste. The process of curing and smoking Country Ham originates from the Southern States of America such as Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina (Kentucky and Georgia have good country hams too). Country Hams are also often referred to as Virginia Ham. This salty ham is a popular favorite around the holidays and is the delicious element on southern ham biscuits - a dish served at weddings and other celebrations. Red eye gravy is made from country ham drippings as well.
How Country Hams are Made
Hams are cut and trimmed and then cured with salt and other ingredients such as sugar and pepper. Each maker of Country Hams has their own secret additives for the curing rub mix. Once the hams are rolled and rubbed with the curing salt mix, they cure for at least a month, sometimes longer so that the ham absorbs the salt thoroughly.
After the curing period, the hams are washed and hung for a couple of weeks to dry. In order to qualify as a "Country Ham," they must lose nearly 20% of their weight during the curing process (As mandated by the Department of Agriculture, they have to lose at least 17% of their weight to legally be advertised as "country Ham"). Most of this weight is lost in the drying room.
After hanging to dry, the hams are placed in an aging room, where the temperature is hot - around 80 degrees. This is where the flavor works its way throughout the meat - the longer the ham hangs, the stronger the overall flavor. Hams typically age for several months - though some are aged for several years! Some Country Ham makers will smoke their hams for sveral days prior to aging, to give it a unique flavor.
Where To Buy Country Hams
Some of the most popular styles of Country Ham are Virginia Hams - Smithfield Ham is the most well known. Wayco, from North Carolina makes a very good Country Ham as well. You can also try Edwards Hams - sold by Virginia Traditions. All three of these hams are available for purchase online. Kite's Hams is also a popular brand, having come in first place in several Virginia State fairs and national ham shows.
How to Prepare and "Cook" Country Ham
Hams are purchased by weight - 7-12 lbs with the bone-in is a typically good sized country ham. When you get a Country Ham you must scrub the salt cure and mold off of the surface then soak it in a big pot or tub for at least half a day...the longer the soak, the more salt cure comes out. Since this is a very salty ham, you want to make sure you soak it for a long time.
The best way to cook a country ham is to boil/simmer it (though some folks prefer to fry it). To do this, you cut off the ham hock (which you can use for beans or a stock) and then completely submerse it in fresh, cold water for half a day. Then, change the water and bring it to a boil, then back it off to simmer, covered, for 20 minutes per pound. DO NOT BOIL. Once this is done, remove from heat, let it cool down then cut off the rind, wrap in foil and place in the fridge.
Baking Country Ham is similar to boiling it, except you place the ham, skin side up in a deep roaster, with hot water added until it is just about 2 inches from the top of the roaster (with the ham in it). You then bake the ham for 10 minutes at 350 F then reduce the oven temperature to 250 F and bake for another 20 minutes per pound.
Whether you bake or boil, you should cook the ham at least a day or two before you plan on serving it.