How to Cook a Ham in Hay – And Why You Should Try It!
Ready to try something a little bit different?
Cooking ham in a pot of water filled with hay and herbs sounds a bit odd, but it’s actually an old timey method for cooking ham that lends a great and very different herbal sweetness to a cured (smoked or not) but uncooked ham.
Note* This will not work with precooked hams, you need a cured but uncooked ham. If you’re having trouble finding one of these…well, the best thing to do is to make your own! Curing a ham from scratch is as easy as plunking a ham in a pot of salty water for a week or so. Read ham curing instructions to learn all you need to know to start making your own hams at home!
Here’s how you you cook a ham in hay:
Ham Cooked in Hay
- 1 ham – the size doesn’t really matter, just use the ham you have
- 1 pound bundle of good organic hay (alfalfa or Timothy hay preferably) – the best place to find this, oddly enough, is in your local pet store in the guinea pig feed section!
- 10 juniper berries
- 5 whole cloves
- 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
- 10 black peppercorns
- 3 bay leaves
- Enough water to cover the ham and hay
- In a pot large enough to comfortably fit your ham, lay down a layer of hay and then nestle your ham on top of the hay. Add the spices and herbs and then cover the ham with more hay all over.
- Fill the pot with enough water to just cover the ham and the hay and then bring the pot to a gentle simmer and cook until tender and cooked through. The timing obviously depends on the size of the ham. A small boneless ham (3 or 4 pounds) will be done in an hour or so, while a behemoth whole leg ham may take as long as 4 hours to cook through. Use 15 minutes per pound as a rough guideline.
- When done, discard the hay and serve.
Or – you can roast it in hay as well, as an alternate method of preparation.
In Hugh Fearnley Wittingstall’s great cookbook, ‘The River Cottage Meat Book’ which you absolutely should have, it’s one of those classic books, he prepares ham in hay by braising ham in a very low oven.
Use the same recipe, but instead of boiling:
- First preheat the oven to 275 f (you definitely don’t want to cook this in a hot oven, lest your hay catch fire!)
- Get your hay a little bit wet
- Use a roasting pan with good high sides. First lay down a layer of hay, then put on the ham, pressing the herbs and spices into the surface of the meat, then cover with more hay.
- Add in 4 inches of water and then cover with a tight fitting lid (again, this is a fire safety thing. You don’t want stray bits of hay floating out into your oven, so you need to keep it contained. If you don’t have a good heavy lid, use aluminum foil.
- Throw it in the oven and cook until the interior of the ham reaches 165 f. A whole leg of ham may take as long as 5 hours, smaller cuts will take much less time.