as has been in evidence, um, all year, i don't get much time to come here and post much. something about having a crazy job and a crazy two year old. so i'm going back to something bryan and i used to do in our early days - food projects.
when bryan and i were first dating, i was far more meek in my food choices. i had grown up with a huge organic garden, so i was already familiar with and a champion of that whole concept. mom cooked home cooked meals every night, made killer baked goods (and still does), and i enjoyed cooking and baking as well. but i had never been exposed to the professional side of cooking, or anything necessarily gourmet. bryan changed that, a change i rather welcomed.
however, that also meant stepping out of my comfort zone some, trying new things. so to keep from overwhelming me, we'd select a food project, something particular for me to tackle, be it eggplant or tofu. this worked very well. now that i'm past most of my food phobias, we've gone on to do food projects together - experimenting with intermediate and advanced techniques. i'm modifying my format here to do that with you, dear reader.
so here's your first food project: wet cured ham, 2 varieties: baked, and smoked.
the first step in making your own ham it to get your hands on a fresh ham steak. a real butcher will have this. you could also cure a whole shoulder. again, this is something a butcher will have. it is possible you can ask for it at your super market as well; if they carry any large cut of meat and have an actual bandsaw in the back (something you'd expect but is a lot less likely than you'd think), they'll have it. i used 3 fresh ham steaks, about 2 inches thick, and roughly 7 or 8 inches long by 4 or 5 inches wide. so, not your normal giant christmas ham, but with a family of 3, i don't want to have huge hams that take a week for us to finish.
next, find a brine recipe you'd like to use. i used a very simple one from Michael Ruhlman's book Charcuterie, which can also be found online, here. in the past, i've also done hams in a brine with garlic, juniper berries, allspice, cloves, and bay leaves. a brine is essentially water and salt, and usually sugar. the recipe i used also called for pink salt (not hawaiian pink salt, but a specialty curing salt), which i didn't have, so i omitted it and added a small amount of potassium nitrate (also known as saltpeter) instead, which i have on hand for curing corned beef.
submerge the fresh pork in the brine. i have some cambro food storage bins i like to use (you can get them at a restaurant supply store). i did also have to use my giant roasting pan since i needed more space than i had (which is ok - since the brine didn't contain acid of any sort, it's safe to use metal pans). it's important to fully submerge the meat, which generally means weighing it down. i covered the containers with plastic wrap, then put bowls on top of the hams with cans inside of them. the containers then go into a fridge. the recipe suggests 1 day per 2 pounds of ham in terms of curing time - about a week for a large ham. i left my hams in for a day short of 2 weeks, knowing it wouldn't hurt anyone.
after 2 weeks, we smoked 2 of them, and baked 1 of them. the plan was to eat the baked one for dinner, but we ended up having one of the smoked ones. and it was so good. rich, salty, caramelized sweetness. mom and dad joined us, and we ate nearly the entire ham. dad loves ham, and i think this made him a convert.
we sliced off some of the baked ham for croque monsiuers, and froze the rest of the baked ham and the remaining whole smoked ham for later use.
so there you have it! a big success. i urge you to try this. it's really simple - make the brine, put in the meat, and forget about it. even if you don't have a smoker, you can bake it, so you have no excuse not to. and it's far, far superior to supermarket ham, which is one dimensional flavorless meat that tastes of salt and not much else. home cured ham has a depth you can't match elsewhere. and you get to impress your family and friends, who'll think you're a magical genius with super powers. go forth and CURE!