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Perfection isn’t granted; it’s obtained through hard work, precise calculations

Personal touches can add flavor to precooked dish

DEBORAH LEE WALKER ¦ Contributing Writer

(Sept. 28, 2012) The philosophy of simplicity encompasses many aspects of cooking, but when closely examined, does simplicity equate easiness? On the opposite end of the spectrum, perfection must be examined to truly comprehend simplicity. Is it possible simplicity in certain circumstances can retain components of brilliance?

In order for us to put this theory to task, we must turn our discussion to specifics. Acquaintances with particulars are an exercise of the senses and intuition; knowledge is not to be left out of the circle of experimentation. Let us remember perfection is not granted — it is obtained through hard work and precise calculations. The holiday season is around the corner and ham is the subject for analysis. Spiral hams are precooked, sliced, and come with a packet of glaze — what could be easier? Actuality and hypothesis are two different concepts. What works for one does not necessarily support the other. In this particular case, what one perceives as being an advantage could possibly complicate matters. Allow me to expand and further my point of view.

Since spiral ham is already cooked, reheating it can, and often does, dry it out. Believe it or not, but the thickness of the meat affects the flavor. The thinner the slice, the less seasoning it will retain and adjustments are necessary. If you think the packet of glaze is sufficient, think again. The thick, sweet sauce does not enhance the natural flavor of the ham. The bottom line is, it overpowers the meat. My advice is to discard the packet of glaze and start from scratch.

The shank-end hams come from the bottom of the leg nearest to the hoof. The butt-end hams come from the top of the leg nearest to the hips. You can recognize a shank-end ham by its tapered top whereas a butt-end ham has a rounded top. Shank-end hams are the preferred choice because the bone is straight, which makes it easier to carve and there is less gristle and fat.

To minimize the likelihood of the drying out process, cook the ham in the oven as little as possible. Most chefs place the ham directly on a roasting pan, but enclosing it in an oven bag almost guarantees a moist, tender ham. Depending on the size of the ham, bake for 1 1/2 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 100 degrees.

While the ham is in the oven, the next step is to prepare the glaze. It should be applied to the ham during the last 20 minutes of cooking. The temperature of the oven needs to be increased considerably to help the caramelization process. A thick, second coating of brown sugar helps secures the glaze and produces a crackly crust that parlays nicely with the tender meat.

A few pointers on slicing the ham follow. For those who adore bone marrow, do not discard the bone without delving into the fatty tissue that is considered a delicacy.

Place the ham on its side and cut around the bone to free the attached slices. Using a carving knife, slice horizontally above the bone to remove the entire section. Turn the ham to cut side down and slice. Remove the bone from the other section of the ham and again slice it. Carefully cut in between the slices to separate them. Serve immediately.

Ham is an American favorite, but the simple tradition has many obstacles to become the state of perfection. Remember the philosophy of simplicity incorporates many stages of complexity.

Spiral Ham
1 (7-10 lbs.) spiral-sliced bone-in ham
1 (12 ounce) jar apple jelly
1/8 cup honey
1/8 cup maple syrup
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon each ground cinnamon,
fresh ground nutmeg, allspice, thyme and
garlic powder
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1. Remove ham from packaging and discard plastic disk covering the bone. Rinse and pat dry with paper towels. Place ham in oven bag and transfer to a large roasting pan. Ham should be at room temperature before going into the oven.

2. Adjust oven racks to the lowest position and heat oven to 250 degrees. Bake ham for approximately 1 1/2 hours or until the internal temperature reaches 100 degrees.

3. In the meantime, bring all of the ingredients except for 1/2 cup of brown sugar and butter to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring often, until mixture is very thick and reduced to 1/3 cup. Remove from heat and whisk in butter.

4. Remove ham from oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes. Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees. Cut open the oven bag and brush on glaze. Carefully press the remaining brown sugar on the exterior of the ham. Depending on the size of the ham, you may have to add a little more brown sugar. Return to the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Remove ham from oven and allow to rest for 13 minutes. Carve and serve.

Secret Ingredient: Ordinariness. “Success is doing ordinary things extraordinarily well” … Jim Rohn.

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