Thursday, December 6, 2012

Christmas ham - tips and tricks

With Christmas upon us, locations, numbers and menus are being decided for the all-important Christmas feast in households everywhere. One dish that will feature on the menu in many homes is the ham. 

Hams can be bought at varying prices and the difference between the supermarket soccer ball ham and the more expensive hams can be hard to understand. When choosing a ham for Christmas, there are many variables which impact on the taste and quality of the ham. No two legs are the same and there are seasonal changes in the flavour of the pork. Interestingly pigs feel the heat as much as we do and do not eat as much in the middle of the summer. Fortunately, the pork needed for hams is produced well before this.

There are various ways to transform a leg or piece of pork into a ham and the good news is there’s a size and shape to suit almost everyone. The more commercial producers may inject the brine and then tumble the hams to reduce the curing process to as little as 12 to 24 hours and increase the weight but as with all things there are traditionalists such as Pino Tomini Foresti and his wife Pia, owners of Pino’s Smallgoods at 45 President Avenue, Kogarah in Sydney’s south.

Pino with one of his magnificent hams

Pino’s family has been making ham for seven generations and supplying the Australian market since his arrival here from Italy in 1973. Pino uses only Australian hams that take ten days to prepare. Pino takes great care in the preparation of his hams, using no additives, which he claims makes his hams safe for pregnant women to consume and chooses legs with a good amount of fat covering. He produces a ham which is a cross between the English and drier Italian style, brining it for 8 to 10 days. Then, they are baked and smoked for 16 to 24 hours using his secret combination of woodchips and seasonal herbs such as rosemary, sage or fennel.

Pino makes hams in every size from a 1.3k mini up to a 12kg whole ham on the bone. A visit to his store is like visiting a meat and smallgoods Nirvana with a fabulous cooking school attached. It is well worth a foodie excursion.

Pino's curing room
I have always been a fan of whole leg ham on the bone, especially at Christmas or to entertain a crowd. For me a good quality ham should have a flavour balance between sweet and salty, not taste chemical, be moist but not wet and not be stringy or smell porky. It is important to remember that all legs are different and colour may vary between different muscles however the ham should have mostly all the same flavour.

Glazing a ham really makes it very, very special and keeps hordes happy. There are a few tried and true guidelines that I always follow for a fail proof ham at Christmas.

1.  Choose the best quality ham you can afford. In addition to using the tips I have given you above and doing a little more research, look out for the Australian Pork logo. Any ham on the bone is sure to be Australian but for boneless ham, you need to check.
Andrew Spencer, CEO of Australian Pork, stipulates we need to support Australian pork farmers stating “more than 70% of Australia's processed pork products (ham, bacon and smallgoods) have been produced from cheap, subsidised imported pork."  

2.  To remove the skin from the ham, place in a warm oven (160°C fan-forced) for 20 minutes. Cut through the skin about 10cm from the shank end of the leg. Run your thumb around the edge of the rind just under the skin and start pulling from the widest edge of ham and continue to pull carefully away from the fat up to the cut. Remove completely.  

3.  Using a sharp knife, score across the fat at about 3cm intervals, cutting just through the surface of the top fat. Do not cut too deeply or the fat will spread apart during cooking. Score in the opposite direction to form a diamond pattern.

4.  Brush your favourite glaze recipe (mine contains honey, mustard, dry sherry, soy sauce and brown sugar) over the ham (i stud mine with cloves) and bake in the oven for 45-60 minutes at 180°C (160°C fan-forced) or until golden brown, basting every 15 minutes.

5.  Serve warm or cold with your favourite condiments and accompaniments.

Learn more of my tips and tricks for a high impress and low stress Christmas on the Lifestyle FOOD channel this December. I have all of your needs covered for both a traditional Christmas feast and one with a more contemporary flair.

For my traditional Christmas tips, Lyndey’s Cracking Christmas will be airing on Lifestyle FOOD on December 10th at 8:30pm and the contemporary Christmas special on December 17th at 8:30pm, with repeats throughout each week. 

Lyndey’s Cracking Christmas viewing times

LifeStyle FOOD Australia
Traditional episode times
Monday 10 December at 8:30pm
Monday, 10 December at 11.30pm
Wednesday 12 December at 8.30am and 4.30pm
Saturday 15 December at 6.30pm
Sunday 16 December at 11.30pm
Monday 24 December at 3pm
Modern episode timesMonday 17 December at 8:30pm
Monday, 17 December at 11.30pm
Tuesday, 18 December at 8.30am and 4.30pm
Saturday, 22 December at 6.30pm
Sunday, 23 December at 11.30pm
Monday 24 December at 3.30pm

Food TV, New Zealand
Traditional episode times Wednesday 12 December 1pm, 5pm & 9pm
Modern episode times Wednesday 17 December at 1pm, 5pm & 9pm
Australia Network
Traditional episode time Monday 24 December at 5:30pm (Hong Kong time)
Modern episode time Tuesday 25 December at 5:30pm (Hong Kong time)

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