How to Cook Salt-Cured Country Hams

Written by miranda brumbaugh
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How to Cook Salt-Cured Country Hams
Salt-curing ham is one way to preserve the meat while adding a distinct flavour. (Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

Rubbing salt over the exterior of a ham to cure the meat produces country ham, which is a Southern delicacy that originated in Smithfield, Virginia in 1902. According to the USDA, salt-cured hams are not properly cooked but the salt reduces the water content in the meat, which helps prevents pathogens from reproducing. Therefore, for safety reasons, you should cook a salt-cured ham to make sure you are killing any pre-existing bacteria. The two preferred methods of cooking country ham are pan frying and boiling.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Whole or half of an uncooked country ham hock
  • Large kettle or pot, such as a pressure cooking vessel
  • Frying pan, preferably cast iron
  • Cup of black coffee (optional)

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    Boiled Country Ham

  1. 1

    Place the uncooked ham hock in a deep pot and cover with water. Set in the refrigerator and let soak for 4 to 12 hours. Remove the ham and drain the water.

  2. 2

    Cover the ham with clean water and let soak for an additional 12 to 18 hours in the refrigerator, if you want to remove even more of the salt from the ham.

  3. 3

    Set the desalinated ham with the skin facing down in the large pot. Add clean water to the pot until you completely cover the ham.

  4. 4

    Set on the hob and heat on medium-high until the water temperature reaches 87.8 degrees Celsius and is simmering but not boiling.

  5. 5

    Simmer, adding water if necessary to keep the ham covered, for 25 minutes per lb. Cook until the internal temperature measures 72.8 degrees Celsius. Remove from the water and slice as thinly as possible with a very sharp knife. Serve immediately.

    Fried Country Ham Slices

  1. 1

    Slice uncooked country ham hock in 1/4-inch thick slices. Leave the fat and skin on the edges of the ham. Preheat the frying pan on medium-high heat.

  2. 2

    Place the slices in a single layer in a preheated ungreased frying pan; the fat on the ham will melt into the grease for cooking the ham. Cover the frying pan.

  3. 3

    Let the ham cook for approximately five minutes, and flip over. Cook on the other side for five minutes. Remove from heat and serve between biscuit halves or on a sandwich made from white bread.

  4. 4

    Fry cooked country ham by slicing into 1/4-inch thick pieces. Place in a preheated frying pan on medium-high heat, and cook for one minute on each side; do not overcook as you are only warming the cooked ham.

  5. 5

    Retain the ham grease leftover from the fried ham slices to make red-eye gravy to serve over the ham, if desired. Add 1/2 cup of water and a cup of black coffee to the grease in the pan and simmer on medium heat for three to five minutes, or until it turns a reddish tint. Serve immediately with fried ham slices.

Tips and warnings

  • Store an uncut, whole country ham for up to a year at room temperature; after a year the ham is safe to eat, but the quality of the meat will begin to deteriorate.
  • Store uncooked sliced country ham up to one month in the freezer or between two to three months in the refrigerator.
  • Cooked country ham can stay in the refrigerator for up to seven days or in the freezer for one month.
  • The salt-curing process concentrates the flavour of the ham, so it is recommended to pair this meat with strong flavours, such as red-eye gravy made from strong coffee.
  • Do not eat country ham that does not reach at least 71.1 degrees Celsius, which is necessary to kill pathogens in the meat.
  • Do not overcook the boiled or fried ham, or the consistency will become too tough to chew.

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