7. Ham Information
8. What is Ham?
Ham comes from the rear leg of the pork carcass. Not all the cured product from the pork carcass is ham. The picnic (cured lower portion of the front leg), bacon (cured belly), and Canadian bacon (cured loin) are not considered ham.
In curing, sodium nitrite, salt, and sugar are mixed with water to form a "brine" or curing solution. This solution is then "pumped" into the ham for uniform distribution of the brine. After several days of curing, the product is washed free of excess brine, cooked, and sometimes smoked. This process is known as a commercial cure.
Processors are inspected continuously by the USDA to make sure the finished product does not contain more than 200 parts per million nitrite. However, processors may, in response to customer desires, vary salt and sugar proportions, length and method of curing, smoking, and other processing techniques to produce a product that is unique to their particular brand.
9. Types of Ham
Fresh vs. Cured
The "uncured ham" should be labeled "pork leg" (fresh ham) and is hereafter referred to as "fresh ham." If the hind leg is to be cured, it may be a commercial cure as described above or a country cure. Country cured hams are prepared with a dry cure. After a long and expensive curing and aging period, the country ham is sold to consumers who desire the special flavor, dryness, and saltiness of the product.
Canned vs. Uncanned
Both canned and uncanned hams are sold. If you buy a canned ham, the weight quoted will be the net weight; that is, the ham weight excluding the can.
Bone-in vs. Boneless
Hams may be sold intact including all bones. However, some people do not use ham bones, and most people are not proficient in carving and may prefer a boneless ham. Bone-in hams are always uncanned, whereas boneless hams may be canned or uncanned.
Half vs. Portion
Some bone-in hams are large and thus are reduced in size. If a ham is cut in half, the resulting products should be sold as a rump half and a shank half. If one or more of the meaty center slices is removed and sold separately, the resulting products should be sold as a rump portion and a shank portion. A shank portion will have more connective tissue than a rump portion.
Regular vs. Additional Water
The brine used in curing is, of course, mostly water. The large amount of water uniformly distributes the curing ingredients throughout the ham in a short period of time. During the curing, smoking, and cooking processes, all of the added water is normally lost. However, some hams do not lose all of the water from the brine. USDA regulations require processors to label hams with different names if more than a normal amount of water is retained after processing.
Perishable vs. Nonperishable
All uncanned hams are perishable and must be refrigerated at all times by retailers and consumers. Most canned hams are perishable and also must be kept under refrigeration. The are labeled "Perishable: keep under refrigeration." Some canned hams are pasteurized and do not require refrigeration. Such hams may be stored at room temperature almost indefinitely since the product is sterile and recontamination is not possible unless the can is opened, punctured, or torn. Such products are usually, but not always, labeled "Does not require refrigeration." When in doubt, always refrigerate.
10. Choosing a Ham
Fresh hams with a desirable color are characterized as bright grayish-pink. Fresh hams that display a pale, soft, and watery appearance are less desirable. Although these hams appear to contain less fat, they shrink more upon cooking and thus tend to be less juicy. Fresh hams that have been stored too long at 40°F or higher are usually slightly greenish because of the effect growing bacteria have upon the muscle.
Cured hams display a characteristic pink cured color. Improper curing results in a light and/or non-uniform cured color. When the ham surface is exposed to certain lights during retail display, the bright pink cured color changes to a faded color. Upon exposure to light and/or prolonged storage at 40°F or higher, the faded pink surface turns to a faded green. Select bright pink cured hams.
The cut and exposed surface of a ham (or ham slice) sometimes displays a rainbow of colors. This rainbow of color may be due to microbial growth. The more likely cause of this phenomenon is the spreading of the cooked white fat present in meat over the surface of the lean during slicing. The white fat is reflecting to the eye all the rays of the spectrum combined.
Marbling is the visible specks of fat within a muscle. Marbling contributes to pork flavor and, to a lesser extent, to juiciness and tenderness. However, hams with excessive marbling tend to taste greasy. Select hams with a small to modest amount of marbling for optimum flavor.
Should you buy a ham which has additional water? This decision depends upon eating preference and/or price. Some consumers prefer the extra juiciness provided by the additional water. Others do not. Hams with additional water normally sell for a lower price per pound as purchased than regular ham. The amount of extra water in Ham With Natural Juices and Ham Water Added is approximately 5 and 10 percent, respectively.
11. Storing Ham
When in doubt, refrigerate hams at all times. The storage temperature should be 32°F. Only genuine country cured hams and pasteurized canned hams labeled "Does not require refrigeration" can be stored safely without refrigeration.
If the temperature of your refrigerator is set at 32°F, cured ham slices and boneless, uncanned ham can be stored easily for a week. Shank and rump portions and halves can be stored easily for 2 weeks. Intact, bone-in, smoked, whole hams can be stored for a month. In all cases, make sure the product is covered with a moisture-proof wrapping material to prevent dehydration. Discard any ham with a distinct spoiled odor and greenish appearance.
Perishable, unopened canned hams can be stored in the refrigerator indefinitely. Once opened and partially used, store the remainders as long as you would a boneless, uncanned ham.
Don't freeze canned hams as purchased. Remove the ham from the can and wrap with a high quality freezer wrap. Uncanned hams may be frozen if wrapped tightly in a high quality freezer wrap. Storage for more than 2 months usually results in a loss of the desirable flavor normally associated with high quality unfrozen ham.
After the meal, always refrigerate any leftovers immediately! You do not need to wait for the leftovers to "cool down," since that is the purpose of refrigeration.
12. Cooking Ham
Ham cookery requires an accurate meat thermometer. Place it in the thickest portion, being careful not to insert the tip in a fat pocket or against the bone. Cook hams to the following internal temperatures:
Type Internal Temperature Fresh (uncured) 170°F Cured, "uncooked" 160°F Cured, "fully cooked" 140°F, or serve cold if you prefer
If you purchase a bone-in ham, you should be fairly proficient in carving, especially if you are serving to company. Always cut across the grain (muscle fibers) when possible for best results.
13. HAM BUYING CONSIDERATIONS:
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