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May 31 / john.russell

Dry Cured Hams

By way of introduction, I’m Scott’s colleague John.  I can only hope that my comments will be a welcome addition to Scott’s preeminent posts.

The task at hand is to dry cure two large hams over the next several months, documenting the changes in the hams’ water activity throughout the process.  To do this, I’ll need to extract small samples of ham at varying depths for water activity testing, while maximizing the effectiveness of the data by minimizing any changes to the curing process.  In other words, I’ll periodically need to perform non-invasive biopsies to extract tissue from the center of the hams as well as near the surface.

Two recipes have been selected.  The first is a traditional salt cured and air dried ham, a prosciutto.  The instructions include salting the ham and leaving it sit, refrigerated, until the ham feels firm and dense to the touch, about one day per pound (which in this case is about 19 days).  The ham is then rinsed clean of the salt, wrapped in cheese cloth, and hung to dry in a temperature and humidity controlled environment for 5 months to a year.  The finished product is a dense, flavorful ham that is thin sliced and generally eaten raw with breads, cheeses, fruits or vegetables, but can also be added to baked goods or meat dishes.

The second recipe, entitled “Blackstrap Molasses Country Ham”, adds, I imagine, some complexity and interest to the flavor.  Like the prosciutto, the ham is first cured in the refrigerator.   In addition to the salt, however, the cure also consists of brown sugar, molasses, fresh ginger, cayenne pepper, and juniper berries.  After nearly three weeks in the refrigerator, the salt rub is rinsed from the ham and the ham is cold smoked at 60 degrees for several hours.  It is then wrapped in cheese cloth and hung to dry for about 7 weeks.

I started the curing process  during this last week – the prosciutto on May 24th and the molasses ham on the 25th.  Before beginning, the water activity of each ham was 0.993aw.  The eitch bone (a piece of the hip bone connected to the femur with a ball joint) was removed prior to smearing the salt cures over the entirety of the hams.  No flesh or bone can remain exposed.  The hams were then set in a large plastic bowl, covered, weighted and refrigerated.

Stay tuned for weekly updates as I blog the progress of the curing hams.

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