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How to cook the best fresh ham: method and recipe

Whispering Meadows produces certified organic ham - all-natural with no added preservatives or colourings.A home-cooked, artisanally butchered fresh ham is in a whole other league from the pre-packaged ham you’ll find in the supermarket.  The mouthwatering aromas from your oven will make it hard to get it to the table, before it gets picked apart by the hungry hordes!

Most commercially produced hams are formed from multiple pieces of meat – often from many different pigs – which are injected with a salt and phosphate solution to bulk them up and glue them together.  Nitrites and colouring are also added for preservation and appearance, and there’s often extra flavouring to make up for the watered-down meat.  The pieces are then mechanically tumbled together in a press to make them stick together into a solid mass.  Not very appetizing when you know what goes into them!

By contrast, our premium fresh country hams each come from a single back leg of one of our heritage pasture-raised organic hogs.  The only processing we do is deboning — nothing is injected, and no artificial preservatives, meat glue, or colourants are ever added.

The many ways of cooking a fresh ham

Certified organic ham, free-range pasture-raised by Whispering Meadows Family Farms. Order online and we'll delivery to your door.As with most things, there are many ways to reach your goal of a perfectly cooked ham.  The best method for you will depend on how much time you have, and the equipment available in your kitchen.

There’s the traditional method: bake the ham in a 325°F (160°C) oven, for 18-20 minutes per pound, until the internal temperature reaches 160°F (71°C).

But we can do better.  Modern food science has improved on what’s possible, and with just a little more effort, our chef’s techniques can give you gourmet restaurant-quality ham, that might just be better than anything you’ve ever tasted before.

We’ll give you a number of ways of getting there, but it all boils down to just a few steps:  slow-cook the ham with moist heat at a low temperature, then glaze it, brown & crisp it, and serve.

Step 1.  Slow-cook with moist heat

The way to get the most tender, juicy, and flavourful ham is to slow-cook it to just the right internal temperature.  And the easiest, most reliable method to get it there, is to put it in a hot environment that is at or just slightly above that temperature.

When you think about it, it’s obvious: holding the outside of a ham at a high heat until the interior reaches cooking temperature, is going to give a range of doneness from the inside to the outside.  The outer parts will always be overcooked once the inside is done.

On the other hand, bringing the whole ham up to just the right temperature will give you exactly the doneness you want, all the way through.

And you can customize your texture as well.  If you just bring it up to cooking temperature, you’ll have a firm, sliceable ham, with a traditional ham texture — perfect for sandwiches.  Or increase your cooking time, to as much as 48 hours, and you’ll create a fork-tender ham that is falling apart and absolutely melts in your mouth.

Order organic ham online from Whispering Meadows: pasture-raised, free range organic pork.Slow-cook method 1: sous-vide.  We’re big fans of sous-vide cooking at Whispering Meadows — there’s no better way to get your meat to the perfect doneness, every time, and with more juiciness than any other method.  Set your sous-vide cooker to 140°F (60°C), place your sealed ham into the water bath – it’s fine if it’s still frozen – and give the meat enough time to get up to temperature.  Typically it will take around 4-5 hours to get the internal temperature up to 140°F (60°C) throughout.  You can stop here, or hold it at this temperature.  The longer it cooks, the more the connective tissue will break down, and the more the meat will be falling-apart tender.  Some people sous-vide hams for as long as 72 hours.

Slow-cook method 2: oven.  Unwrap your ham, and place it on a rack in a covered roasting pan.  Fill the base of the pan with water up to just under the level of the rack.  Set your oven to 150°F (65°C) – or as low as your oven will go, if it doesn’t go down that far – and bake the ham, covered, until it reaches an internal temperature of 140°F (60°C), typically 6-8 hours.  As with sous-vide, you can go longer to make your ham even more tender.  Just check the water in the pan from time to time and top it up as needed.

Slow-cook method 3: crock pot.  If you don’t have a sous-vide setup or an oven available, a crock pot will also work.  The challenge with crock pots is that their temperature varies a lot between manufacturers, so it will take some practice to figure out what works for you.  Raise the ham off the bottom of the pot, and add water to just below the level of the meat.  Turn the crock pot on low, and allow to cook for 8-10 hours, using a meat thermometer to check that the internal temperature has reached 140°F (60°C).

Step 2.  Glaze

After slow-cooking, the meat needs to rest at room temperature for at least 10-15 minutes, to reabsorb its juices back into the muscle fibres.  If you don’t rest your ham, those juices will run out over your cutting board.  It’s a lot more delicious to keep them inside the meat!

While your ham is resting, use a sharp knife to score any outer fat in a criss-cross pattern, without cutting all the way through into the meat.  Dry off the outer surfaces thoroughly with a tea towel — moisture is the enemy of browning.  Then liberally apply your glaze all over.

You can be as creative as you like with your glaze ingredients, but here are a few different recipes you can try:

Marmalade Glaze:  Mix 1/2 cup marmalade with 1/4 cup dark rum.  Add the fine zest of one orange, 1 tsp dried sage, and 1/2 tsp dried ginger.

Honey Dijon Glaze:  Mix 1/4 cup honey and 1 Tbsp dijon mustard with 1/4 cup brandy.  Add 1/2 tsp coarse ground pepper.

Savoury Glaze:  To 1/4 cup dark rum, add 3 minced cloves of garlic, 3 puréed anchovies, 1/2 tsp coarse ground pepper, 1/4 tsp ground star anise, and 1/8 tsp ground cloves.

Coat your ham thoroughly with your glaze.  It’s helpful to use a brush, and keep reapplying the glaze as the alcohol evaporates off.

Meanwhile, pre-heat your oven to 500°F (260°C).

Step 3.  Brown & Crisp

Order your organic fresh country hams online from Whispering Meadows, with delivery to your door.The last step, just before serving, is to brown your ham in a very hot oven.  This gives it a dark, crispy crust, without overcooking any of the interior.

You’ll get the best crisping if you place your ham directly on a middle oven rack, with a tray underneath to catch drippings.  Turn on convection if you have it.

Keep a close eye on the ham — you want to bring the outer surface to a deep mahogany colour, without letting any of it go black.  In a 500°F oven with convection, this will take around 10-12 minutes.

The result is a crispy, savoury outer crust, with a juicy and falling-apart tender interior.  It can be served straight out of the oven.

Best.  Ham.  Ever.

Order your ham from Whispering Meadows

We pasture-raise our heritage hogs, free-range and stress-free, and give them only certified organic, non-GMO feeds.  Our artisanal butcher masterfully hand-cuts each side of pork, to give you the very best cuts of meat.

You can order 4-lb dry-cured smoked hams individually…

…or order by the quarter, half, or whole hog.

We’ll deliver, direct from our farm to your door, anywhere in Southern Ontario.