One of America’s Favorites – Ham

November 18, 2019 at 6:02 AM | Posted in Ham, One of America's Favorites | Leave a comment
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Half ham

Ham is pork from a leg cut that has been preserved by wet or dry curing, with or without smoking. As a processed meat, the term “ham” includes both whole cuts of meat and ones that have been mechanically formed.

Ham is made around the world, including a number of regional specialties, such as Westphalian ham and some varieties of Spanish jamón. In addition, numerous ham products have specific geographical naming protection, such as prosciutto di Parma in Europe, and Smithfield ham in the US.

The preserving of pork leg as ham has a long history, with Cato the Elder writing about the “salting of hams” in his De Agri Cultura tome around 160 BC.

There are claims that the Chinese were the first people to mention the production of cured ham. Larousse Gastronomique claims an origin from Gaul. It was certainly well established by the Roman period, as evidenced by an import trade from Gaul mentioned by Marcus Terentius Varro in his writings.

Typical slice of ham

The modern word “ham” is derived from the Old English ham or hom meaning the hollow or bend of the knee, from a Germanic base where it meant “crooked”. It began to refer to the cut of pork derived from the hind leg of a pig around the 15th century.

Because of the preservation process, ham is a compound foodstuff or ingredient, being made up of the original meat, as well as the remnants of the preserving agent(s), such as salt, but it is still recognised as a food in its own right.


Ham is produced by curing raw pork by salting, also known as dry curing, or brining, also known as wet curing. Additionally, smoking may be employed.

Besides salt, several ingredients may be used to obtain flavoring and preservation, from black pepper (e.g. Prosciutto Toscano) to saffron (e.g. the “Zafferano di San Gimignano.


Sea salt being added to raw pork leg as part of a dry cure process

Traditional dry cure hams may use only salt as the curative agent, such as with San Daniele or Parma hams, although this is comparatively rare. This process involves cleaning the raw meat, covering it in salt while it is gradually pressed draining all the blood. Specific herbs and spices may be used to add flavour during this step. The hams are then washed and hung in a dark, temperature-regulated place until dry. It is then hung to air for another period of time.

The duration of the curing process varies by the type of ham, with, for example, Serrano ham curing in 9–12 months, Parma hams taking more than 12 months, and Iberian ham taking up to 2 years to reach the desired flavour characteristics. Some dry cured hams, such as the Jinhua ham, take approximately 8 to 10 months to complete.

Most modern dry cure hams also use nitrites (either sodium nitrite or potassium nitrate), which are added along with the salt. Nitrates are used because they prevent bacterial growth and, in a reaction with the meat’s myoglobin, give the product a desirable dark red color. The amount and mixture of salt and nitrites used have an effect on the shrinkage of the meat. Because of the toxicity of nitrite (the lethal dose of nitrite for humans is about 22 mg per kg body weight), some areas specify a maximum allowable content of nitrite in the final product. Under certain conditions, especially during cooking, nitrites in meat can react with degradation products of amino acids, forming nitrosamines, which are known carcinogens.

The dry curing of ham involves a number of enzymatic reactions. The enzymes involved are proteinases (cathepsins – B, D, H & L, and calpains) and exopeptidases (peptidase and aminopeptidase). These enzymes cause proteolysis of muscle tissue, which creates large numbers of small peptides and free amino acids, while the adipose tissue undergoes lipolysis to create free fatty acids. Salt and phosphates act as strong inhibitors of proteolytic activity. Animal factors influencing enzymatic activity include age, weight, and breed. During the process itself, conditions such as temperature, duration, water content, redox potential, and salt content all have an effect.

The salt content in dry-cured ham varies throughout a piece of meat, with gradients determinable through sampling and testing or non-invasively through CT scanning.

Wet-cured hams are brined, which involves the immersion of the meat in a brine, sometimes with other ingredients such as sugar also added for flavour. Meat is typically kept in the brine for around 3 to 14 days. Wet curing also has the effect of increasing volume and weight of the finished product, by about 4%.

The wet curing process can also be achieved by pumping the curing solution into the meat. This can be quicker, increase the weight of the finished product by more than immersion, and ensure a more even distribution of salt through the meat. This process is quicker than traditional brining, normally being completed in a few days.

Ham can also be additionally preserved through smoking, in which the meat is placed in a smokehouse (or equivalent) to be cured by the action of smoke.

The main flavor compounds of smoked ham are guaiacol, and its 4-, 5-, and 6-methyl derivatives as well as 2,6-dimethylphenol. These compounds are produced by combustion of lignin, a major constituent of wood used in the smokehouse.


A platter of ham and cheese sliced for sandwiches

In many countries the term is now protected by statute, with a specific definition. For instance, in the United States, the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) says that “the word ‘ham’, without any prefix indicating the species of animal from which derived, shall be used in labeling only in connection with the hind legs of swine”.

In addition to the main categories, some processing choices can affect legal labeling. For instance, in the United States, a “smoked” ham must have been smoked by hanging over burning wood chips in a smokehouse or an atomized spray of liquid smoke such that the product appearance is equivalent; a “hickory-smoked” ham must have been smoked using only hickory. However, injecting “smoke flavor” is not legal grounds for claiming the ham was “smoked”; these are labeled “smoke flavor added”. Hams can only be labeled “honey-cured” if honey was at least 50% of the sweetener used, is at least 3% of the formula, and has a discernible effect on flavor. So-called “lean” and “extra lean” hams must adhere to maximum levels of fat and cholesterol per 100 grams of product.

Whole fresh pork leg can be labeled as fresh ham in the United States.

Protected designations
A number of hams worldwide have some level of protection of their unique characteristics, usually relating to their method of preservation or location of production or processing. Dependent on jurisdiction, rules may prevent any other product being sold with the particular appellation, such as through the European protected geographical indication.


Wild Idea Buffalo Recipe of the Week – Grilled Basil Shanks

October 30, 2013 at 9:22 AM | Posted in Wild Idea Buffalo | Leave a comment
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This week’s recipe is the Shanks! The Grilled Basil Shank Steaks with Pesto Pasta and Cucumber Tomato Salad. It’s this week’s Wild Idea Buffalo Recipe of the Week from Jill O’Brien. I’ve left the link at the bottom of the page. Shanks!



Wild Idea Buffalo Grilled Basil Shanks
Grilled Basil Shank Steaks with Pesto Pasta and Cucumber Tomato Salad

Serves 4 (Active time: ½ hour)

Shank Ingredients:

4 Buffalo Shank Steaks, rinsed and patted dry and tied with butcher string (this helps to keep the shank form falling apart).

1 Tb. olive oil
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. black pepper
4 cups organic apple cider
1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
*pasta, cooked el dente
Basil Pesto Ingredients:

2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
1 clove garlic (adjust to your liking)
2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. salt
¾ cup freshly grated Parmesan
¼ cup pine nuts (optional)
1 cup olive oil
Mix all ingredients together until well incorporated. Set aside until needed, refrigerate leftovers for later use.



1.) Preheat grill to 500*.
2.) Rub shank steaks with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.
3.) Mix apple cider with fresh basil leaves in blender and pour into Crock Pot on high setting.
4.) Place shank steaks on hot grill and sear for two minutes with grill lid shut.
5.) Turn shanks and brush grilled side with 1 Tb. each basil pesto. Close grill lid and sear other side for 2 minutes.
6.) Turn again, and brush newly grilled side with additional pesto. Close lid and grill for one minute. Turn and repeat.
7.) Place grilled shank steaks into hot basil cider in Crock Pot and cover with lid. You will want to braise for 4 hours on medium to medium high heat. *Small bubbles should break the surface. Or set on low to medium heat and cook for 8 hours.
8.) Turn steaks and allow to soak in juices if steaks for a few minutes if steaks were not fully covered in juices.
9.) Remove shank steaks from juices and brush again with pesto and sear one minute each side on hot grill. *Optional.
10.) Toss warm pasta with ½ cup basil pesto and divide between plates. Top with shank steak and drizzle with additional pesto.
Accompany with garden fresh Cucumber Tomato Salad tossed with Sweet Basil Vinaigrette. The perfect taste of summer!


Sweet Basil Vinaigrette Ingredients:

1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
¼ cup sugar
1 Tb. Black pepper
1 tsp. salt
1 cup rice vinegar
¾ cup olive oil


Salad Ingredients:

4 cups leafy greens, divided between plates
1 cucumber, diced
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
¼ red onion, diced
½ tsp. each salt and pepper

1.) Mix all ingredients in blender, except olive oil until well incorporated. Slowly drizzle in oil with blender running. Serve at room temperature. Refrigerate any leftovers for later use.
2.) Toss cucumber, tomatoes and onion with ½ cup basil vinaigrette and spoon over leafy greens. Drizzle with more dressing if desired.





Wild Idea Buffalo Buffalo Shanks
3.5 lbs. Buffalo Shanks
Bison bone-in shanks are great for the traditional Italian dish “Osso Bucco”. The marrow is also coveted as a delicacy and wonderful smeared on toast points. 4 bone in shanks / 3.5 lbs.

Kitchen Hint of the Day!

December 11, 2012 at 11:33 AM | Posted in cooking | Leave a comment
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When purchasing a lamb shank, be sure it weighs at least 3 pounds. If the shank is any smaller, the percentage of bone will be too high in relationship to the amount of meat.


*A meat shank or shin is the portion of meat around the tibia of the animal, the leg bone beneath the knee.
Lamb shanks are often braised whole; veal shanks are typically cross-cut.

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