Back to basics with classic ham makes holiday easy

By NPPA 

LINCOLN – While the holidays are a great time to get together and reminisce with friends and family, the holiday meal can be quite intimidating for the newbie or even the veteran home chef. This year, the staff at the Nebraska Pork Producers Association (NPPA) encourages Nebraska cooks to get back to the basics when preparing the classic ham as the traditional dinner table centerpiece.

“As many Nebraskans are looking to keep things simple and affordable this holiday season, Nebraska pork offers a solution to keep the kitchen stress-free for cooks by sticking to the basics,” said Larry Sitzman, NPPA executive director. “Ham is a traditional, show-stopping favorite and is an easy dinner table centerpiece to purchase and cook for a party of any size – from a meal for one to a larger celebration.”

Purchasing the perfect ham 101

Hams are labeled according to the amount of water added during the curing process. Hams are most commonly available in three varieties:

  • Ham with natural juices, which has had little water added during the curing process and is ideal for holiday celebrations.
  • Ham with water added retains more water during the curing process than ham with natural juices.
  • Ham and water product is a common type of ham that is most often found at the deli counter. It is a great choice if ham is intended to be served cold.

 All varieties of cured ham are either boneless or bone-in. Bone-in hams are traditionally considered more attractive and boneless are considered easier to serve because of simplified carving. For a traditional, simple holiday dinner, the Nebraska pork experts recommend purchasing a bone-in, smoked, cooked ham and adding pizzazz with a homemade glaze.

Back to basics with cooking the perfect ham

As noted on the label, most hams are already fully cooked, which is why it’s important to not overcook them. Cooked hams can either be served cold or after warming in the oven. Uncooked hams should be heated to an internal temperature of 160 degrees F.

“The goal of cooking ham is to add flavor and to warm the ham without drying it out,” said Sitzman.

The following are some basic tips for cooking the perfect ham:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Mix up a glaze and rub it over ham. Nebraska cooks can season pork with favorite herbs, such as rosemary and thyme. Or, try glazing it with a honey apricot glaze. (See recipe below)
  • Place ham in a shallow pan, uncovered, for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours or until an inserted meat thermometer reads 140 degrees F. (About 15-18 minutes per pound)
    • Let the ham rest for 15-20 minutes after baking, to let the juices redistribute and set.
    • Serve with other traditional side dishes. To add a little twist to the meal, chefs can serve ham with different fruit salsas or chutneys, such as Orange-Mint Salsa or Sweet-n-Hot Apple Chutney

Not only is pork easy to prepare, but it can also help Nebraskans watch their waistlines this holiday season. Compared with pork from the 1950s, today’s pork has slimmed down considerably, with 75 percent less fat. In fact, a study released in 2006 by the USDA reveals six common cuts of fresh pork are leaner today than they were 15 years ago – on average about 16 percent lower in total fat and 27 percent lower in saturated fat. The leaner pork is the result of new technology in hog production and superior genetics.

Nebraska ranks sixth in the nation for pork production with more than 2,200 hog farms, the vast majority of which are family owned and operated.

For more nutritional information and pork recipes or for information about pork production, please visit www.NEpork.org or www.TheOtherWhiteMeat.com.

Try out this Baked Ham with Honey recipe for your holiday celebration this year!

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