A great ham takes time, says Chapel Hill, N.C., chef Andrea Reusing, in Cooking in the Moment (Clarkson Potter). One of my favorite ways to prepare a fresh ham is to cure it in a brine before roasting, which means that if I want the meat to be moist and the cracklings “perfectly blistered and crispy” when Sunday dinner rolls around, the pork leg has to be soaking by Saturday morning, if not earlier.
I’m lucky to live near Cane Creek Farm, where Eliza MacLean is on a mission to re-establish the rare Ossabaw Island hog. The breed was established when 16th-century Spanish explorers marooned Ibérico, or pata negra, hogs on a barrier island off today’s Savannah, Ga. The pigs adapted to their new island life, “developing the ability to store ample quantities of fat.” Today, the fat of their progeny has a silky, buttery quality all its own.”
Any pork leg you get from your butcher will give you good results, though—as long as it has a healthy layer of fat. When a fresh ham is roasted, the meat “flips away” from the knife in “big, juicy slices.” In my house, “the amber crackling skin is the only condiment we need.” This ham “goes well with wilted spring scallions, roast potatoes (basted in the drippings), lightly dressed spicy arugula, and beans in all forms.”
Recipe of the week
Roast fresh ham with cracklings
1 cup kosher salt, plus more for final rub
2 heads of garlic, unpeeled, cut in half crosswise
1 large yellow onion, cut in half
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp coriander seeds
3 dried bay leaves
1 small bunch of flat-leaf parsley
1 tbsp expeller-pressed vegetable oil
1 trimmed, skin-on fresh ham (15 to 18 lbs)
Combine 4 quarts cold water, 1 cup salt, garlic, onion, peppercorns, coriander, bay leaves, and parsley. Stir until salt is dissolved. Fully submerge ham in liquid and refrigerate for at least 24 hours and up to 3 days. (If ham doesn’t fit in refrigerator, brine in a cooler, using ice to keep cool.)
At least 90 minutes before roasting, drain the brine, discarding all seasonings, and pat ham dry. Allow ham to come to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place paper towel on top of a cutting board and set ham on top of that. With a sharp knife, score skin, making incisions that run the length of ham and are about ½-inch apart, then make perpendicular incisions to create a crosshatch pattern. The incisions should just barely reach into the fat under the skin; do not cut into meat itself. Lightly oil and salt meat, rubbing all surfaces.
Put ham on a rack in a roasting pan and place in the oven. A 15-pound roast will take almost 4 hours, while an 18-pounder will take as long as 5—about 15 minutes per pound. About 2½ hours in, when temperature of ham hits about 130 degrees, raise temperature to 425 degrees to crisp the skin (cover with foil any areas that start to get too dark). When meat thermometer reads 145 to 150 degrees, remove the roast and allow it to rest, loosely tented with foil, for an hour or so before carving. Serves 15 or more.