A country ham is a rare treat that when first seen dried up and caked in mold looks like the last thing on earth you would want to put in your mouth. Just like aged cheese, however, the mold is harmless and simply needs to be scraped off. After the mold is removed and the salt is cleaned off, you can then proceed to bake the country ham and enjoy one of the Souths’s best kept eating treasures.
How to Clean and Soak a Country Ham
1. Wash the country ham with warm water and scrape off the mold from the surface of the ham with a good scrub brush, then rinse the ham thoroughly.
2. Place the ham in a pan and cover with cold water. You should allow the ham to soak for 2 days prior to the time you plan to cook it, so the best way to keep the ham cool during this time is to use a cooler rather than a fridge. Generally, your goal is to keep the ham in a temperature range of 40-60 F. This will prevent bacteria from growing.
3. Change the water in the pan about every 12 hours to remove the salt from the water, and rinse off the country ham each time you change the water.
How to Bake a Country Ham
1. After scrubbing the mold off and soaking the ham, place the country ham in a good sized pan.
2. Preheat the oven to 325 F and bake the ham 10 to 12 minutes for every pound. So if your ham weighs 5 pounds, bake it for about an hour.
3. 30 minutes before the ham is finished baking, look at the ham and if you see a layer of rind and fat on it, trim some of it off, leaving about ¼ inch of fat on the ham. Do not cut into the meat as you are trimming it.
4. Next, make diagonal cuts all along the surface of the ¼ inch of fat still surrounding the ham. This is called scoring and it prepares the ham for the glaze that you will brush on the ham before placing it back in the oven. Again, do not cut into the meat itself, only the fat.
5. Now apply your glaze to the ham. A good glaze can be made out of a combination of mustard and brown sugar, brown sugar and honey, or equal amounts of pineapple juice, honey, and brown sugar.
6. After brushing the glaze over the ham, place the ham back into the oven for the remaining 30 minutes needed to cook it. Be careful that you do not overcook the ham. Use a meat thermometer and aim for an internal temperature of 160 F.
The process of preparing and baking a traditional country ham takes time, but the end result is well worth the trouble. You should generally plan about 3 days ahead if you are going to prepare one for a special occasion or for the holidays