Saturday, September 29, 2012

Making Ham

Inspired by the stalwart efforts of the Sydney ham-making crew, and Dr Nik's lurid tales of ease and success when he visited us recently, I decided to try to make a ham.  Not a wet ham, in the usual American sense, but a dry ham like the concentrated prosciutto-like awesomeness we had in Spain on our recent trip.  But where to get a pig leg?  (All together now) "Off a pig!" *boom-tish*


This may require a little back-story.  In Flagstaff we have a lot of hunting, because of the surrounding National Forests and their teeming over-population of elk.  So we have businesses like Dennis' Coconino Game Processing, who take your elk and turn it into steaks and burgers.  But we also have a lot of what I can only describe as hippies (and I include myself in their number); only hippies of a perhaps more practical bent than their usual stereotype.  And these folks support a nascent but thriving local foods industry, spearheaded by Jonathan over at Local Alternative.  If hippies and hunting sound like a weird mix, well that right there is one of the many things I love about Flagstaff.

Anyhow, I mentioned wanting to get my hands on some fresh local pork to Jonathan at one of the monthly supper club get-togethers down at the pub, and he pretty much signed me up on the spot for a quarter-share in a 600-lb. pig, and a hog-butchering / meat-cutting class he had organised, taught by Dennis.  So today I went on down and got me just about the freshest leg of pig that it is humanly possible to obtain, in order to make my ham.

The class was awesome.  A local cheese-maker had been raising 6 hogs off of his whey, and they were big handsome beasties indeed on that diet.  Dennis showed us the initial skinning and butchering on one, Which ends you up with a pair of these:

and then that needs to sit in his cool-room for 2-3 days to get down to a usable working temperature.  So he wheeled out the one he butchered 3 days ago, and showed us how to turn it into these:
mmm... bacon.

Along with some chops and sausages that we took directly from the sausage machine to the BBQ for lunch, and which were, frankly, some of the tastiest sausages I have ever eaten.  Then we dropped by the store on the way home and bought like 30 pounds of salt (which turns out to be complete overkill - from the recipes I could find you don't so much pack the ham in a bucket of salt as cover it in salt and press it, refreshing the salt as necessary.)  So we took this guy:
who weighed in at 13.75 pounds, and seasoned him with pepper and crushed garlic, and then packed him in a whole bunch of sea salt
and wrapped him loosely in plastic.  (Again according to my various readings, the plastic shouldn't hold moisture in, but it should hold the salt against the pig.)  My various sources differ on whether it needs to be refrigerated at this stage.  I find it unlikely - given that ham predates reliable refrigeration by some number of centuries - but as it also predates public health standards, I've gone with storing it in the fridge for the first couple of days at least, until the salt has time to work some preservative magic.  I've got it under 12 pounds of weight (see?  that extra salt wasn't useless after all) for now, but I think I'll increase that later.

I should mention that most recipes I found specifically called for a pig leg with the skin on, and we had already skinned this lad by the time I worked that out.  So the whole thing may be a horrendous waste if that turns out to be a deal-breaker.  Only one way to find out!  Not sure how long to leave it, but the consensus seems to be at least 2 weeks before hanging it.

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