Ham is the perfect symbol of a holiday meal, perfection in a main course. Glazed with adornments like cloves, exotic fruit, criss-cross cuts or spiraling, they have an elegant quality that appeals to everyone at a holiday table.
Once you have a ham, the ham recipe you choose is completely up to your own personal preferences. Ham goes perfectly with sweet or spicy seasonings, glazes, sauces, and rubs.
How to Choose a Ham
Ham is also easy to cook, and easy to buy if you know what to look for. Average hams in supermarkets are cured in a solution of salt, water, preservatives (usually including nitrites and nitrates), and different flavorings. The best hams for holiday meals are bone-in whole or half hams. These are the best as far as moistness and versatility for using in ham recipes.
When you choose a ham, note the label. If it is labeled as plain ham, it tells you that it is ham without additional water added. If a ham has a label stating that it has natural juices, that lets you know it has about 8% water added to it. A ham that states that it has water added has up to 10% water added to it. The more water you add to a ham, the lower the quality. Hams that call themselves ham and water product are up for guessing as far as how much water is in them. For high quality, avoid these hams with high water content.
How to Cook a Ham
Cooking your ham is going to depend on the recipe you choose. Prep and cooking times will vary, as will the steps you need to take to ensure your holiday meal is as perfect as can be. Some general tips that work for pretty much every ham recipe are:
Let the ham warm to room temperature. Let the ham sit on the counter for up to two hours before baking it. Now, make sure you leave the ham covered or wrapped, since you don't want any pets or bugs getting into it! If you're worried about bacteria developing on the ham, don't fret. As long as you don't leave it out for more than a couple of hours, it will be fine. The high temperatures of the oven will take care of any bacteria. Letting your ham warm to room temperature will help it cook evenly.
Always preheat your oven. This should be fairly obvious for anyone who has cooked a lot before, but those who are newer to cooking may forget about this. Always preheat your oven before cooking a ham to ensure it's exposed to the right temperature for the whole time it's in the oven. Once you turn your oven on at the right temperature, let it sit and warm up for at least ten minutes.
Make sure you score your ham. Scoring involves making small cuts on top of the meat. When the juice or glaze that you're using on your ham is poured over the top, the scores will allow it to trickle down deep into the meat. This will give you a ham that is intensely flavorful and delicious.
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