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Bringing Out The Ham In Me

Show of hands…How many of you eat Ham for Easter?

Yeah, me too.  A big, glazed, spiral sliced ham, served with creamed potatoes, green bean bundles, Seven Layer Salad, and deviled eggs.  Because that’s what is served in my parents’ home, and in their parents’ homes before them.  I love ham, I really do.  And that’s a good thing, because it makes an appearance rather often.

It is served on Christmas Eve with little rolls to make sandwiches.  And it is served on New Year’s Day, with black-eyed peas.  If you’ve ever been to a funeral wake in the South, you’ll recognize ham as integral to both the pre-funeral family gatherings and the post funeral reception.  Hams begin arriving before flowers and phone calls of condolence.  My Aunt has dubbed it Death Ham.   Despite the fact that part of me thinks it wrong to besmirch the most favored of funerary food offerings with such a title, I know it’s true.

So I find it a bit ironic that this same Death Ham of the funeral wake is the same ham many of us eat on Easter Sunday–the day that Christians hale as the day Jesus Christ rose from the dead.  Even those that celebrate Easter as a secular Holiday could not argue that the Holiday is decidedly joyous.  The time of year that we color eggs and eat our weight in chocolate bunnies.  Are you the ears-first or tail-first sort?  The only time of year that yellow-and-white-cream-filled chocolate eggs are available.   You know the ones…..If you don’t like them, and you get some in your Easter basket, just send them to me.

I think that an occasion as auspicious as Easter is befitting of a meal less ordinary than glazed ham.  And yet, I don’t want to turn my back on the traditions of many generations that came before me.  Such a quandary.

My solution?  A non-traditional ham, served with non-traditional sides, from one of my favorite food regions.  The Caribbean.

A Cuban staple is the lechon (letch-own)–an uncured ham roasted in a highly flavorful marinade and shredded.   I serve it with black beans, garlicky lemon rice, and tostones (crispy fried plantain patties-think of them as Caribbean tater tots).  A by-product of making the lechon is the chicharron (cheech-a-rone)–crispy roasted pork skin–which is typically sliced into strips and served as a treat alongside the lechon.   Pork croutons, if you will.

These recipes are simple, but they are not fast food.  You’ll need to start the evening before with a few simple prep steps, but the result is well worth it.

Lechon, after Chicharron Removed

Cuban Lechon

  • one 7-10 pound uncured raw ham (pork butt or picnic roast) bone in, and with the skin still on
  • juice and zest of 2 limes
  • juice and zest of 2 lemons
  • juice and zest of 4 small thin-skinned oranges
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 2 cups packed fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • one fresh jalapeno pepper, stem removed
  • 2 t salt, divided

The night before serving:  rinse and pat dry the ham.  With a very sharp knife, carefully cut the fat and skin layer away from the meat of the ham, leaving it attached at one end.  Peel it back to expose the meat underneath.   Score the meat about 1/2 deep in a diamond pattern, as you would a glazed ham. Place in a large roasting pan.

In a blender, puree the juices and citrus zest, garlic, cilantro, olive oil, jalapeno, and half of the salt.  Pour all of the mixture over the scored meat, and rub into the cuts.  Replace the skin over the meat, and sprinkle with the remaining salt.  Cover the pan and refrigerate overnight.

Six hours before serving:  heat oven to 450*.  Remove cover from roaster, and cook for 30 minutes.  Reduce heat to 250* and cook, uncovered, for 5 hours.

Using a sharp knife, cut the roasted skin away, and remove to a cutting board.  Baste the ham with the pan juice, and allow to sit for 10 minutes before shredding the meat and mixing with the juices.   Serve with rice and black beans.

If you wish to serve the roasted chicharron as a crunchy treat, use a large knife to chop the skin into thin strips.  Serve on the side.

Black Beans

  • 1 pound dry black beans, washed and picked over for stones
  • 1 pound bacon or salt pork, cut into 1″ pieces
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 small white onion, chopped
  • 1 fresh jalapeno (optional), minced
  • 2-3 teaspoons salt

Place the bacon into a stock pot over medium heat, and fry until almost crisp.  Add the garlic, onion, and jalapeno, and saute for 4 minutes.  Add the beans, and enough water to cover by a few inches.  Bring to a boil, cover with a tight lid, and reduce heat to a low simmer.  Simmer for at least three hours.  Salt to taste (how much you need to add will depend on how salty your bacon, and how much salt to desire).   You can also cook them in a crock pot all day after cooking the bacon and vegetables in a skillet first.

Lemon Garlic Rice

  • 3 T olive oil
  • 1/2  cup finely minced white onion
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • 3 cups long grain rice
  • 4 1/4 cups water
  • 5 teaspoons chicken bouillon
  • juice and zest of 2 lemons (save the juiced lemon halves)
  • 1 t finely ground black pepper

In a 4 or 5 quart non-stick pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add onion and garlic, and saute for 3 minutes.  Add rice and remaining ingredients, including the juiced lemon halves, and bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 15 minutes.  Don’t peek!  Remove from heat and allow to sit for 10 minutes before opening and fluffing with a fork.

The recipe for tostones (toast-own-ess)–crispy fried plantain patties–will appear in Thursday’s blog post entitled “Going Bananas”.

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Categories: Food, Gourmet, Holiday, Texas

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5 Comments on “Bringing Out The Ham In Me”

  1. 2012/04/02 at 10:30 am #

    Strangely enough, I didn’t care much for ham until I started buying my own groceries. I grew up on canned ham, scalloped potatoes, green beans and those brown and serve rolls. I believe there might have been some deviled eggs here and there. I was probably 25-30 years old before I discovered spiral cut Virginia ham (the pigs are fed a diet of mostly peanuts – and it seems to make all the difference in the world). Still, I wasn’t much on having it at Easter. Last year we grilled steaks. I think we’ll do the same in a week. Besides, I don’t have an oven these days. — Your alternative Carribean version is very appealing, by the way. I’ve bookmarked it for a future meal.

  2. 2012/04/04 at 11:24 am #

    That cook has been on my list of things to do for way too long. Probably for over 8 years I’ve been wanting to do a lechon asado, and I say I will and then I forget. I might have to do that real soon. There I go again saying I’m going to do it. Hopefully I won’t forget this time.

    And yes, we’ll be having ham on Easter. Well on Saturday actually. We’ll be going down to the ranch for the weekend and will be in the car coming back on Sunday.

    • 2012/04/04 at 12:53 pm #

      Well, you’re doing better than me this weekend….We are going to the ranch on Saturday, having fajitas, and then driving to Corpus saturday night. We’ll be having coldcuts and veggie tray on Sunday…Not even a canned ham….Glad I made the lechon last weekend…..We are still eating leftovers.

  3. 2012/04/09 at 11:24 am #

    We ended up having Whataburger for our Easter dinner last night. After driving from Goliad to Dallas with a U-Haul trailer, unloading and then dropping it off, neither of us felt like cooking. How was the ranch and Corpus?

    • 2012/04/09 at 1:10 pm #

      Both were lovely..weather was awesome, and not having to cook anything around church on Sunday was great. I just bought smoked chicken and made chicken salad the night before, so lunch was a breeze.

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