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Holiday Ham: Tips for Choosing
The holiday ham is the traditional centerpiece for Easter, Christmas, and other holiday gatherings. Almost any special meal warrants a holiday ham. Many options are available in choosing a holiday ham and in the quest to make the choice your holiday ham centerpiece a success. You can not judge the value of your holiday ham by the price per pound; you need to look beyond the price for differences in hams that are available. Nutrition labels are a great place to start your comparisons of the ham. The nutrifacts gives information about the calories, fat, cholesterol, protein, and sodium contents of the ham. Generally, nutrifacts for ham are healthy since ham is a relatively lean cut of meat before anything is added. When comparing hams, be certain that you note the serving size that has been used to establish the nutritional statistics of the ham.
Although nutrition information is very similar from one ham manufacturer to another, there are several factors that will present distinguishable differences in hams. These factors may represent differences in flavor and texture profile from one brand of ham to another. These factors are bone-in ham versus boneless, slow curing of ham versus efficient curing, water levels added to the ham, different methods of smoking the ham, cooking duration, and, of course, the ingredients included the cure or marinade of the ham.
Bone-in hams provide 2-3 servings per pound and tend to highlight the added ingredients. The natural fats of the ham help to enhance the ingredients that are added to the cure (marinade). Although you may want to trim the fat away when consuming the ham, cooking the ham with its natural fat will bring out the unique differences in many spices and sweeteners used to make the ham. Boneless hams provide 4-5 servings per pound. Boneless hams usually have all visible fats removed when preparing the ham for smoking and cooking. Boneless hams are extremely simple, however if you do not mind trimming away a little fat, you will probably enjoy the flavor profile of the bone-in ham more than the boneless ham. If carving is a concern, try a pre-sliced spiral sliced ham with the bone-in.
Another factor that presents definitive differences in hams from one brand to another is the method of curing the ham. Ham is made with a flavorful cure, a marinade of water and brine that gives the ham its typical taste and appearance. Technology advancements have helped the ham curing process (adding ingredients through moisture enhancements) to become a much more efficient process than the early days of ham processing. Equipment has helped the process of getting the ingredients into the ham quickly to get the ham to the store quicker. Although the efficiency factor helps reduce the costs of production of some hams, it is not always effective in maximizing the flavor enhancement factor. Whether using new technology or traditional methods, slowing the curing process will bring out the unique differences from the added ingredients. Getting the ingredients into the meat is only half of the process, giving them a chance to work before cooking is the second half.
Water is the medium in which ham makers use to get different ingredients into the meat. Over the years, some ham makers have improved their methods to get more and more moisture into the meat. Labels will read ham, ham with natural juices, water-added ham, and ham with X% added water. Obviously, ham and ham with natural juices will have the least amount of water diluting the natural taste of ham and its added spices. Adding more and more water will help drive down the cost of the ham, but generally does little to enhance the flavor and texture of the ham itself.
The method of smoking the ham will be yet another factor that creates differences from one brand of ham to another. The traditional method of smoking ham was to use specially selected logs of hard woods that would enhance the sweeteners and spices that the ham maker chose. Soon, processors found that their ham tasted better with hickory wood, applewood, or even dried corn cobs. One of the newest technologies is a processed natural smoke that is converted to a liquid form and is applied to the hams during the cooking process. This process has helped to shorten the processing cycle of the ham. Many specialty processors still choose to stay with the natural wood of their choice to enhance the special blend of spices that gives their ham its unique flavor properties.
Much like the lengthened curing process of the ham, many ham processors feel that slow cooking ham at a lower temperature maintains the natural meat texture and cooks the spice flavors into the ham. Again, technology has been introduced to shorten the cooking cycles and reach the safe internal temperatures quicker. Some argue that the quick process changes the ham texture too much, and doe not allow the flavors of the ham and ingredients to blend during the cooking process.
Probably the one area that each ham maker will argue that his is the best is in the ingredients he chooses for the cure or marinade of the ham. Each cure has one or two prominent ingredients that help to give unique taste and aroma properties to a ham. Maple syrup, honey, and brown sugar are three primary ingredients that specialty ham processors may choose to build their cure recipe. In addition to the base ingredient, many other spices may be added to further enhance a unique recipe preference to cure a ham.
As you can see, a good centerpiece holiday ham for your Easter, Christmas, or special celebration meal goes well beyond the price per pound or an attractive package. There are many ways to make a ham less expensive, but like any good recipe, if you short cut the cycle and ingredients it may not taste as good and bring pleasure to you and your guests that you may expect. Choose your ham wisely, and enjoy one of the best tasting meal traditions.
You must insist on quality and the distinctive, elusive, one-of-a-kind flavor in your ham that can never be mass-produced by machinery or rushed through the curing and smoking process. Whether you need a holiday ham, or are buying a ham just because you love the flavor, a ham from http://www.meatgourmet.com can not be matched. All hams from http://www.meatgourmet.com come from one of only a few family run smoke houses in the U.S. today. To obtain the very best maple syrup brine cured, cob and applewood smoked hams, made in the New England tradition in one of the few smokehouses left that controls quality from beginning to end, visit http://www.meatgourmet.com today.
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