Holiday Ham

Cooking with Beer by | Dec 2012 | Issue #71

Photo by Sean Z. Paxton

Pigs are wonderful animals, plain and simple. They are a canvas that so many different products are created from. Take a ham for instance. The hind legs from the hip to the shank can be just roasted to have a great leg of pork roast, or taken to a whole new level of flavor by curing them.

You can do a dry cure, where salt, seasonings and pink salt are combined, rubbed onto the skin and left to sit a day per pound to pull out moisture from the muscle and create edible delights like: Belgian Jambon d’Ardenne, French Bayonne ham, Italian prosciutto, German-smoked Black Forest Ham, Spanish Jamón Serrano or Jamón ibérico, or an English York ham. These hams take months to years to cure properly, at a consistent temperature and humidity, making them very hard to replicate at home. Plus the pigs were fed special diets to impart delicious flavors that aren’t as easy to procure.

The second type of ham is a wet-cured ham: boiled hams, spiral cut hams and deli hams. These hams are soaked or injected with brine that cures it, transforming the muscle into a delicious meat. This is the easiest of the hams to make at home because you just need the time and refrigeration space to help the transformation of flavors happen.

Here is a recipe and the instructions to make your own house-cured ham, cuisine à la bière style. Happy holidays!

Note on curing salt: This ingredient could be left out, but the results of the finished ham will change. The sodium nitrite prevents botulism issues and keeps the meat from spoiling as it cures for 2 weeks. This ingredient combined with the salt and sugar will also help prevent microorganism growth. Plus, the pink salt helps keep the meat a rosy pink color when cooked, as opposed to a white/gray color that would be traditional for a roasted pork leg.

Holiday Ale Cured Ham

Makes: 1.75 gallons of brine/cure

Brine/Wet Cure Ingredients:
2 qt water
2 1/2 cups sugar, dark brown
2 cups kosher salt
1 1/2 cups wildflower honey
1/2 cup blackstrap molasses
2 tbsp pink salt*
30 each cloves, whole
9 each bay leaves
6 each cinnamon sticks
2 each star anise pods
4 lb. ice cubes
72 oz Deschutes Jubelale Festive Winter Ale or other Winter Warmer, cold
18–23 lb. pork, hind leg, skin on (special order from your butcher)

* Pink salt is available at or other online spice companies

Brine/Wet Cure Directions:
In order to fully cure the hind leg, the meat needs to be submerged for at least 14 days, approximately one day for every two pounds. Make sure there is space in a refrigerator or a kegerator that can be held at 40°F or below. Even with the curing salt (sodium nitrite), the meat can spoil if not kept cold.

In a large stock pot, combine the water, brown sugar, salt, honey, molasses, pink salt (sometimes called curing salt), cloves, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks and star anise. Bring to a simmer over high heat for 10 minutes to dissolve the sugar/salt and to infuse the flavors into the brine. Turn off the heat and let the brine cool for 10 minutes. Do not strain the brine.

If using a large stock pot or homebrew kettle to brine the pork leg in, add the ice and cold Winter Warmer Ale to the slightly cooled liquid. Stir well to combine the ingredients, and cool the mixture down to at least 40°F. Make sure there is enough room for the pork leg to be fully submerged, taking care that water displacement does not overflow the pot (this shouldn’t be a problem with a 10-gallon brew pot). Cover with a lid and place into the refrigerator or kegerator undisturbed for 14 days. Once every few days, turn the pork leg around to make sure it has full contact with the brine/cure. It will take this long to infuse the brine deep into the meat, all the way to the bone.

If using another large container, such as a food-grade 5-gallon bucket with a lid, add the ice and cold brew to the pot, cooling the brine down below 40°F. Then place the pork leg into the container and carefully pour the brine over the meat to cover.

After the two weeks have passed, remove the container from the cold storage, and take out the now-cured pork leg from the brine/cure. Discard any spices or bay leaves that might be stuck to the meat. Do not use the brine/cure again; it has served its purpose. Now, the choice is how to cook the ham.

Boiled Ham (City Ham) Directions:
Using a large stock pot or brewing kettle with a wide circumference versus a short base and tall sides, lay the cured pork leg down.

3 stalks celery, chopped
6 each cloves, whole
3 each bay leaves, preferably fresh
2 each onions, yellow, large, peeled and quartered
2 each leeks, white and light green part only, sliced in half, cleaned and chopped
2 each star anise pods
1 each cinnamon stick
1 each tangerine, cut in half
1 tsp peppercorns, black, whole
5 each carrots, large, peeled and chopped

Add the above vegetables to the pot with the pork leg and cover with enough water to fully submerge the leg by 6 inches, about 2–3 gallons of water. Bring the liquid to a boil, then turn down the heat to a simmer (just barely boiling) and cover with a tight-fitting lid. After 30 minutes, check the liquid and skim any foam or impurities that make a scum on the surface of the water. Cover and let cook for 3 hours. Add the carrots, checking the liquid level to make sure the meat is still fully submerged, and cook until the internal temperature of the ham is 155°F. Traditionally, the pork leg is cooked 20–25 minutes per pound of meat (depending on how thick the meat is and the fat-to-muscle ratio). For a ham of about 20 pounds, that equals about 6.5–7 hours of total cooking time. I suggest using a probe-style digital thermometer that can be left in the meat, so you can set a temperature that will trigger an alert. Be sure to position the probe in the thickest part of the muscle, away from any bone contact to prevent a false temperature reading.

Once the internal temperature of 155°F is reached, turn off the heat and remove the lid. Allow the pork to cool for at least an hour and up to 2 hours before trying to remove it from the pot. Carefully remove the leg using clean dish gloves to get a better handle on the meat, and have a sheet tray or roasting pan next to the pot to set the leg in. Using kitchen shears, cut the skin off and discard it. You may leave the fat as is or trim it off with a small knife. Taste the remaining pork stock. If it is too salty, discard. If it has a nice flavor, save the stock and use it to cook beans, pearl barley, lentils or split peas, or use for soup. The now-cooked ham can be served to guests on a platter and sliced. Or the ham can be cooled, refrigerated and used for any ham recipe. The ham can be made a day or two ahead of when it is going to be served. To reheat the ham, follow the directions for a Roasted Ham, but figure 18-20 minutes per pound to reheat it at 325°F, looking for an internal temperature of 150°F, as the carry-over heat will raise it to 155°F before you serve it.

Roasted Ham Directions:
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Rinse off the brine and cured ham, and then pat dry with paper towels. Place the leg of pork, skin-side up, into a roasting pan fitted with a roasting rack. Add 3 cups of water and another 12 ounces of Deschutes Jubelale (or other Winter Warmer) to the bottom of the roasting pan. Position a probe thermometer into the thickest part of the ham. Tent the pan with aluminum foil and place into the center of the oven, leaving the temperature sensor outside the door. Roast the ham for 25-30 minutes per pound. One can raise the temperature to speed up the cooking process, but the results are not as good. After about 2.5 hours, remove the aluminum foil tent (reserving) and leave the roast uncovered. Check the liquid content of the bottom of the roasting pan and add more water if needed. Once the temperature reads 155°F, remove the ham from the oven and re-tent with the foil. It is important not to overcook the ham, as it will begin to dry out. Let the ham rest for at least 30 minutes, as the carry-over heat will continue to cook the ham, raising the internal temperature of the meat to 160°F, then cooling the muscle, allowing the juices to redistribute. Cut off and remove the skin, as it is inedible at this point, slice the ham into thin slices and serve.

Smoked Ham Directions:
Preheat the smoker to 250°F using a fruit wood, such as cherry, apricot or peach. Place the brine/cured pork leg into the smoker with a water pan filled with 12 ounces of Deschutes Jubelale or other Winter Warmer and the same amount of water. Minimize the amount of times the smoker is opened—keeping a consistent temperature will result in a better ham. Smoke the ham until it reaches an internal temperature of 155°F, at least 14 hours of cooking time. Remove the ham from the smoker and let rest to collect its juices for at least 30 minutes before carving.

Beer Mustard Glazed Ham

3/4 cup Sierra Nevada Honey Pale Mustard
1/4 cup wildflower honey
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tbsp malt vinegar
cloves, whole

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Once the ham has been cooked, skin removed and fat trimmed, place onto a roasting pan with a rack. Score the surface of the meat with a paring knife in a diamond pattern, cutting into the muscle 1/4 of an inch deep.

In a small bowl, add the mustard, honey, brown sugar and vinegar, whisking to combine. If the ham is still warm, using gloves, rub the mustard glaze into all the cuts, creating an even coating all around the leg. Next, pierce a clove into the center of each diamond and repeat, covering the whole ham. Place into the oven, uncovered for 40–45 minutes, or until the surface is bubbling and starting to caramelize. Let cool for 15–20 minutes before carving and service.

If the ham is cold, place on the rack of the roasting pan and cover with a piece of parchment paper, then add 2 cups of water to the bottom of the pan and wrap tightly with foil. Bake the ham for 45 minutes to warm it through, then remove the foil and parchment paper, and follow the directions in the above paragraph.