Winter was the season for ham back when refrigeration was limited to those in extremely northern climes. Before their eighteenth century expulsion, the Acadians of the Canadian Maritimes knew to freeze their food underground, a clever option unavailable points south.
It is easy enough to cure your own ham, provided you use a brine and obtain some curing salt. Dry cures and smoking are dicier propositions, but the wet method verges on foolproof, and it is satisfying to produce at home what conventional wisdom would dictate requires purchase. This recipe stipulates use of tenderloin, a lean and therefore comparatively troublesome cut, but by substituting shoulder or leg the recipe becomes simpler still. If you do select tenderloin, then invest in a decent meat thermometer to preclude overcooking. You will need about five days to cure the pork in its brine. Two pounds of lean and tasty ham.
- ½ cup coarse salt (we like Maldon; you could use cheaper kosher)
- ½ cup Turbinado sugar
- 1 teaspoon whole allspice
- 3-4 bay leaves
- 3-4 whole cloves
- heaped teaspoon mustard seeds
- heaped teaspoon whole peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 quart boiling water
- 12 oz hard cider
- ½ teaspoon curing salt (see the Notes)
The ham itself:
- an onion peeled and sliced into thick crescents
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- about ½ cup hard cider
- 2 pork tenderloins (each usually weighs about a pound)
- Make the brine by mixing the coarse salt, sugar, allspice, bay, cloves, mustard, peppercorns and thyme, then pour boiling water over the mixture.
- Add the cider, let the brine cool and then stir the curing salt into the brine.
- Pour the brine over the pork in a nonreactive container or plastic freezer bag (double them up for insurance if you select the bag option), ensure that the meat remains submerged in the brine and stick it in the refrigerator for about five days.
Preheat the oven to 250°.
- Strew the onion and thyme across an ovenproof pot just big enough to hold the tenderloins in a single layer, pour on the cider and then lay down the meat.
- Tightly cover the pot and bake the pork until it reaches an internal temperature of 135°; that usually takes under an hour, so wield your thermometer early.
-The Editor chose to base the recipe on two tenderloins of about a pound apiece because that is how they most commonly are packaged.
-Let the ham cool before slicing so that it cuts evenly instead of tearing.
-Curing salt, or ‘Prague powder,’ is available from www.myspiceage.com. The price is fair; shipping is free and fast.
-The ham is particularly good sandwiched between a split buttermilk biscuit.
-Some people cannot abide cloves; if you are among them, do not be deterred by this recipe. Just leave them out.