Like tender asparagus spears and ripe red strawberries, succulent ham signals spring.
And because a 10-pound bone-in ham can feed at least a dozen people with plenty left over, it's a natural for a holiday feast.
But cooks who are feeding only a few people shouldn't shy away from ham, says Peggy Babler, coordinator of the Meat Board's test kitchens in Chicago. Boneless hams now come as small as 1 1/2 pounds.
Size isn't the only factor to consider when choosing a ham, however. Your taste preference, budget and the occasion will determine whether you want to buy a ham that's wet- or dry-cured, bone-in or boneless, fully or partially cooked, or canned.
Bone-in hams are sold whole or in portions. Semi-boneless usually are sold whole with the shank bone removed. The National Pork Producers Council defines boneless hams as whole hams that have been boned and trimmed, then rolled or molded and packed in a casing. Canned hams are pieces of meat that have been pressed or molded, then sealed in a can and fully cooked.
Boneless hams may be convenient, but bone-in hams generally have fuller flavor. And shoppers pay for the convenience of boneless hams, which cost about $3 to $5 a pound, compared to around $1.50 a pound for bone-in. However, boneless or canned hams yield four to five servings per pound vs. two or three servings for bone-in hams.
Ham labels also indicate whether the meat is fully cooked or needs to be cooked before eating. Bring fully cooked ham to an internal temperature of 140 degrees to serve warm. Heat ham that was not fully cooked during processing to an internal temperature of 160 degrees before serving.
Here are some recipes for sauces and glazes to serve with Easter ham.
$ Makes 2 1/4 cups sauce.
1 (16-ounce) package frozen cut rhubarb, defrosted, or 3 cups sliced fresh rhubarb
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/3 cup orange juice
2 teaspoons grated orange peel
3/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1 cinnamon stick
Combine ingredients in large saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, uncovered, 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove and discard cinnamon stick. Spoon a small amount of sauce over ham 15 minutes before end of cooking time, if desired. Serve remaining sauce with ham.
! Makes about 1/3 cup
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cup bourbon whiskey
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
Combine brown sugar, whiskey, orane peel and allspice in small saucepan. Cook and stir over medium-low heat 15 minutes or until glaze is slightly thickened. Brush glaze over ham 20 minutes before end of cooking time.
Tangy apricot glaze
! Makes about 1/3 cup
1/4 cup apricot preserves
1 tablespoon chili sauce
1 teaspoon prepared grated horseradish
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
Combine apricot preserves, chili sauce, horseradish and mustard. Spread glaze over ham 20 minutes before end of cooking time.
Because ham comes in such large quantities, you're likely to have plenty left over. Store in the refrigerator four to five days. If you tire of ham sandwiches, try these two salads using leftover ham:
Ham salad with hot peanut dressing
! Makes 6 servings.
3/4 pound boneless ham
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup peanut butter
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon sugar
1 medium cucumber, seeded and thinly sliced
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
6 cups Romaine or curly endive, torn
1 head radicchio or Boston lettuce
Thinly slice ham and heat briefly in microwave or in skillet over medium heat. Set aside and keep warm.
Combine salad oil, peanut butter, lime juice, soy sauce, ginger, garlic and sugar in a blender or food processor; blend well. Heat mixture in a microwave in a glass measuring cup or on stovetop in a small saucepan.
Toss together cucumber, red onion and Romaine or endive.
Line salad plates with radicchio and top with tossed vegetables. Arrange ham slices on vegetables and spoon hot dressing over ham.
Fettuccine and ham salad
! Makes 4 servings.
3/4 pound fully cooked boneless ham
1/2 cup diagonally sliced carrots
8 ounces spinach fettuccine
1 small onion, sliced and separated into rings
cup tarragon vinegar
1/4 cup cooking oil
1/8 teaspoon dried tarragon, crushed
1/8 teaspoon dried basil, crushed
Cut ham into 1/2 -inch cubes. Set aside. Place carrots in steamer basket over water. Cook for 10 to 12 minutes or until crisp-tender. Cook fettuccine according to package directions. Rinse well with hot water.
L In a large bowl, combine ham, carrots, fettuccine and onion.
To make dressing, combine vinegar, oil, tarragon and basil in a screw-top jar. Cover and shake well. Pour over fettuccine mixture. Toss gently to coat. Chill 2 to 4 hours. Toss again before serving.
Pace fully cooked, sliced ham on a microwave-safe dish; cover with plastic wrap. Microwave on medium (50 percent power), then let stand before serving.
Amount.. .. .. .. Thickness.. .. .. Heating.. .. .. Standing
.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Time.. .. .. .. Time
1 1/2 lbs... .. .. .. . 1/4 inch.. .. .. 10 mins.. .. .. .. None
3 lbs. .. .. .. .. . 1/4 inch.. .. .. 25 mins.. .. . 3 minutes
1 slice(3 1/2 -4 lbs).. .2 inches.. .. .25-30 mins.. .10 minutes
1 slice(1-2 lbs).. ..1 inch.. .. .. 10 minutes.. . 3 minutes