Sunday, January 4, 2015
Ham from Bourbon Country: Col. Bill Newsom's Kentucky Ham
Kentucky is most known for bourbon and horses, but it really should be equally known for ham. Kentuckians will be quick to tell you how great their hams are, and I've even known people who have done Kentucky ham tours (they should make a ham trail like the Kentucky Bourbon Trail).
For the holidays, I was lucky enough to get a whole country ham from Col. Bill Newsom's in Princeton, Kentucky. A whole Kentucky ham is a massive thing; this one weighed 17 pounds and was a full foot and a half long. It requires a deli slicer (which luckily, I have) and a hacksaw (which I had to buy). This is the story of a boy and his ham.
First, a quick aside on country hams. When you think of a roast ham or an Easter ham or one with pineapples on it, that's a city ham; those are wet cured and a totally different beast. A country ham is dry cured and aged. Prosciutto and Jamon Serrano are probably the most famous examples.
Kentucky country ham is in the same family, but strangely, almost every recipe or instruction I've seen for it recommends cooking it. Maybe it's because of the American aversion to eating uncooked pork (which is what prosciutto is as well...remember these things are salt cured for over a year), but can you image sticking a Jamon Iberico in the oven? It would be like drinking a Very Very Old Fitzgerald with Coke. If I had 17 pounds of what is essentially American prosciutto, I was going to do it right.
And so I hacked my way into the behemoth. For my first go, I hadn't bought the hacksaw yet, and it was tough going with a serrated knife. The pig skin is leather-thick so it took a lot of work. My efforts looked less like this and more like this, but I managed to get the job done and free a chunk from the center of the leg. Then I ran it through my deli slicer on as thin a setting as I could manage, slicing against the grain (as you should with any meat) into beautiful, nearly transparent pieces with white veins of fat running throughout.
The tougher pieces near the bones are great for cooking (throwing in a few thicker slices with some eggs makes one of the best scrambles ever), and there's a whole hock that can be used to add flavor to pretty much everything, but the bulk of this is going to be thin sliced and consumed.
I have no idea why Kentucky hams don't have the same reputation as European hams, but this one was clearly of the same caliber.
Col. Bill Newsom's country hams are $6.29 per pound and are nitrate free. They also have a prosciutto style ham that is even further aged, and if you have any questions, give them a call. Nancy the Ham Lady is more than happy to chat about hams.