With Easter just around the corner, Julie Geary of Classic Cooks Catering in Gloucester spoke with Bill Yameen of Butcher Boy Markets, North Andover, for some tips on what kind of ham to buy for her holiday spread and how best to prepare it.
The U.S. tradition of eating ham at Easter goes back to when there was no refrigeration; meat was slaughtered in the fall and fresh meat that wasn't eaten was cured for preservation purposes. The first cured hams tended to be ready around Easter and so it was more a matter of convenience than anything else that hams were eaten. Over time it became ingrained in our culture.
Yameen recommends a boneless, spiral ham, which has been cured and lightly smoked. He explains why this ham is superior to those you might find in the grocery store: "A lot of times the one that you are going to get at a grocery store has water added. The government allows ham producers to put up to a 30 percent salt solution into the ham which changes the texture and flavor of the ham." So he recommends that you check the label and ask questions to avoid that.
Yameen also suggests complements to the ham, including a honey ham glaze, made with brown sugar, ground cloves, cinnamon, lemon juice and honey, and an old-fashioned raisin sauce, which for Geary brings back nostalgic memories of her grandmother's cooking.
The ham is pre-sliced, to make your job easier, and then tied together with string so that it doesn't dry out when you bake it. Yameen explains that it doesn't actually have to be baked; "the ham is already cooked, you could basically eat it just like it is; all you're going to do is heat it and you don't want to overheat it because you'll dry it out." He recommends about an hour at 325 degrees and suggests that you bring the ham to room temperature before putting it in the oven, so that it heats more evenly.