Easter dinner, for most, means Easter ham. And with money being tight this year it’s more important than ever to get the most for your meat dollar. That means selecting the best ham, and then making the most of the leftovers.
Ham it Up: The Morning After
Whether your Easter feast was top-shelf country ham or proletariat ham from the can, you can do more with the leftovers than resign yourself to a week of ham sandwiches for lunch.
Luckily, few things offer so much in the second life department as the humble ham. Here are three suggestions:
1. Save that rind! Many smoked hams come with a rind of smoky skin on the outside that is normally removed before serving. Don’t make the mistake of tossing it away. Instead cut it into 3 inch chunks and freeze it until the next time your split pea soup or lentils need a little pick-me-up. Simply toss a chunk of rind or two in with your beans and cook as usual for legumes with a rich and smoky edge.
2. Sausage? Yes, you can. One of my favorite things to do with ham scraps is to make sausage with it. It may sound impossible but it’s much easier than you might think. Combine your ham, chopped finely in a grinder or food processor, with an equal amount or more of ground pork, plus seasonings, and mix by hand in a bowl. Make sure that all the meat is cold and that you add some cold water as you mix them or your sausage will be dry. I like to season my sausage Cajun style and then form into patties or links. I use plastic wrap as a casing and stick them in the freezer until the next time I feel like making jambalaya.
3. Stock up. All that’s left now is the bone (assuming you bought a bone-in ham, which you should have because they’re cheaper). What to do? Providing you have some room in your freezer, now is the perfect time to haul out the stock pot and simmer your ham bone for a few hours. Once the bone has fallen apart at the joints you can strain out the chunks and freeze your ultra-porky stock in plastic containers for use the next time you need to fortify a soup or stew.
One of the fastest and easiest soups to make with ham bone stock is pea soup with mint. Blend one part stock with two parts frozen peas with an immersion or regular blender and some fresh mint until smooth. Serve with a dollop of yogurt on top, a drizzle of olive oil and some bacon bits and your dinner guests will never suspect they’re eating last Easter's ham.
The Main Course: Which Ham is Right for You?
Of course before you get to leftovers, it's important to select the right ham.
There are a lot of hams out there. Between canned hams on the bargain aisle and smoked country hams, your ham choices are relatively vast.
Below is a run down of the different types of hams that you’ll find, how to prepare them, and what they’re good for.
Just a few notches up from Spam, canned ham is generally made from smaller pieces of ham that have been pressed together, cured and canned. So long as you don’t think too deeply about what your ham might be made of there is no shame in the canned ham game. Since it has been canned with heat and pressure, your ham is fully cooked and your only challenge is to heat up the ham while forming a delicious layer of browned meat on the outside. A thin rub of brown sugar, freshly cracked black pepper and maple syrup will do the trick. As canned hams are generally small, they don’t take long to heat through in a moderate oven.
Grocery Store Ham
Cured and fully cooked ham is a staple of the meat case at most suburban chain stores. It’s easily spotted by its plastic shrink-wrap exterior and rosy pink color. Anything that can be said of a canned ham can generally said of the stuff from the refrigerated section. But they are usually made of one single ham and, because they haven’t been canned, have a better texture.
Whether honey baked or Black Forest, these pre-seasoned and (usually) smoked hams are great for people who just can’t deal with worrying about whether their ham will turn out or not. Like the hams above, this guy is pre-cooked and only needs to be warmed up. Just be careful not to overcook them!
These are the hams you see wrapped in cloth bags and emblazoned with old-timey logos. Country hams are the real deal. They have been salted, smoked and aged for months. If made improperly they can be a dry, salty mess. When treated with respect they can be the best ham your family has ever eaten. Most country hams require a 24-hour soak in cold water and then a two-stage cooking that involves pre-heating your oven to 450 degrees, inserting the ham and then turning off the oven to leave it cook. Although this may reek of strange voo-doo, the end product is so delicious you might even look forward to the ritual.
The bonus points for the country ham come with its price: a real country ham that can feed 15 adult can be had for less than the price of a few bottles of decent wine, if you buy the ham directly from the smokehouse.
Check our our Food and Drink section for more recipe ideas for the budget chef.