The last few cooking classes focused on Thanksgiving recipes and techniques, so I thought it only fitting that we now tackle some Christmas recipes. For many, Christmas dinner means ham, but very few will have a fresh ham.
What’s the difference? Well, most of the hams that are bought are already cooked, smoked or cured and you are simply reheating them. A fresh ham is NOT cooked. It is essentially a pork leg and you cook it, not reheat it. Why do this? It is like nothing you’ve ever eaten. It tastes like a combination of a succulent pork roast and sweet turkey. Believe me, once you have a fresh ham, you will never want any other again.
First is where to get a fresh ham. You will need to order it from your butcher. It is a bone-in cut and will run between 16-20 pounds. This ham will easily feed up to fifteen people. Once you have the fresh ham, you will have to cook it, so let’s get cooking.
To make this ham you will need the following: large roasting pan, meat thermometer, pastry brush, large saucepan, two cups orange juice, four cups white vinegar, one cup brown sugar, ½ cup garlic puree (equal parts garlic and canola oil blended together), four sticks unsalted butter, salt and pepper.
The first step is to pull the fresh ham from the fridge at least two hours before you are going to cook it. We do this so it is not so cold and will cook more evenly. While it is sitting out, you will want to cut the fat. This is another way to make sure the ham cooks evenly. Use a sharp, non-serrated knife, cut ½ inch deep into the fat, creating a diamond pattern. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Once ham has sat for the two hours and the oven is preheated, place the ham into a large roasting pan.
Next get a piece of foil that is large enough to completely cover the meat. Spray one side with cooking spray, like Pam. Place it over the ham, sprayed side against the meat. We do this because if we left it uncovered during entire cooking time, the fat would burn before the meat came to temperature. We will crisp the skin later in the cooking process. The ham takes about fifteen minutes per pound to cook, so a sixteen pound ham will take about four hours. We are looking to reach an internal temperature of 140 degrees. To check the temperature, insert a meat thermometer into the top of the ham, away from the bone. I know, you have heard 160 degrees is temperature for pork, well it has changed. If you cooked the ham to 160 degrees it would be tough and dry.
Now, while the ham is cooking we will make the glaze. We will use this glaze during last 20 minutes of cooking and a few other ways. In a large sauce pan combine the two cups of orange juice, four cups of white vinegar, one cup firmly packed brown sugar, ½ cup garlic puree, four sticks unsalted butter and a dash of salt and pepper. Cook over medium-high heat and stir until all ingredients are well mixed. Once the glaze comes to a simmer, reduce the heat to low and cook uncovered ten minutes. Leave in the saucepan until needed.
During last twenty minutes of cooking, we will remove the foil, brush the ham liberally with our glaze and crank the oven up to 475 degrees. During this time, re-brush the ham with glaze every five minutes. Once skin is crispy and golden brown, remove the ham from the oven and turn the oven back to 350 degrees. Let the ham sit 20 minutes then carefully remove all the crisped skin. We wait 20 minutes so the juices don’t run out when we remove the skin. Why remove it? Two reasons, first we want to be able to saturate the meat itself with the glaze and secondly, the crisp skin is very rich, there will be people that want a lot and some that don’t want any. When you cut it off, you can give people exactly the portion they want.
Okay, once all the skin is off and set aside, brush the ham with the glaze and put back into the oven for about eight minutes until glaze is set. Once the glaze is set, remove the ham again and you are ready to serve. I like to serve slices of the ham with pieces of that glorious crispy skin on the side. The glaze will be used again here, lightly brush the slices of ham and then sprinkle with salt and pepper. And there you have it, a mouth-watering fresh ham.
Now that you know how to cook a fresh ham, feel free to put your spin on it. For example, if you have a favorite ham glaze, use that instead of the one in this recipe. Serve an applesauce or chutney alongside for another layer of flavor. As with any technique or recipe, the most important component is the cook’s heart. The heart is what creates delicious.
Chef Ivan Flowers brings 25 years of fine cuisine experience to Top of The Market, San Diego. Prior to becoming Executive Chef at Top of The Market, Chef Flowers owned Fournos restaurant in Sedona, Arizona, named a top 25 restaurant in Arizona. He was also Executive Chef at L’Auberge de Sedona, the AAA Four-Diamond, Four Star award winning restaurant. Flowers has created extraordinary cuisine for some of the finest restaurants in Arizona, including T. Cooks at Scottsdale’s Royal Palms Resort and the Phoenician’s Mary Elaine’s and Different Pointe of View.