Ham for the Holidays
Hy-Vee Chef Al Hernandez lets you in on his secrets for a great holiday ham. Buy the right size, go for a glaze and don’t overcook the meat.
The sweet, down-home flavor of thickly sliced ham is one of the most fuss-free of all main dishes. It’s always a welcome choice for a holiday feast. Whether you are a novice cook hosting a first gathering or a seasoned pro who wants to focus on extravagant sides and fanciful desserts, make ham the centerpiece dish.
Choosing the right ham for your needs is the only trick. Fortunately, Hy-Vee makes it easy to pick the best cut for your meal. For advice, we turned to Alfonso Hernandez—known as “Chef Al”—who is the Meat Department chef at the Barlow Plaza Hy-Vee in Rochester, Minnesota.
When shopping, you must first decide whether you want a ham from the animal's shoulder or the hind. You can’t go wrong either way. Chef Al says, “Unless you’re a ham connoisseur, you probably won’t be able to tell the differences in flavor between the cuts.”
Boneless and spiral-sliced hams come from the hindquarter; they’re easy to serve and they yield a lot of meat. For many cooks, however, a meaty bone for soup-making is a major bonus when buying a ham. If your aim is for soup on some future night, opt for a ham from the shoulder butt or a picnic ham (also from the shoulder). The shoulder butt will give you the biggest bone of these two.
Chef Al says that hams at Hy-Vee have been brined (a curing process done with water, salt and usually some spices), air dried, then smoked— usually over natural hard woods. Such hams are fully cooked; your job is simply to reheat the meat. Always follow the ham’s package directions.
To avoid drying out a ham, however, don’t overcook it. “Customers have told me that spiral-sliced hams, especially, can dry out,” he says. “Therefore, I recommend knocking off 20 minutes of total cooking time to keep it moist.”
Also, if you’re concerned about saltiness in your ham, go for a glaze. “Glazes such as brown sugar and pineapple not only make the ham look pretty, they help cut down on the salty flavor,” he says. For selecting a size, Chef Al recommends 1⁄2 pound meat per person, or 1 pound meat if you want leftovers. Keep in mind that the bone weighs 1 to 2 pounds; if you’re serving a bone-in ham to eight people, you’ll need 5 to 6 pounds for dinner—or 9 to 10 pounds if you want leftovers.
Take our word for it: You’ll definitely want leftovers—see the enticing ideas for making the most of your ham on page 20–21.
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