I like to flatter myself that I’m pretty smart and on the ball, but evidently I am fairly susceptible and even downright gullible when it comes to pork products. Take last night, for example. I went to Whole Foods because, over the weekend, I found a whole smoked bacon (unsliced) in the freezer, and thought I would simmer it with some other ingredients to make an aromatic broth, and serve that broth over the simmered pork belly that remained, with ramen noodles, and some nice greens, maybe a slow cooked duck egg. Sort of a belly ramen with smoked pork broth, you know? Anyway, I needed the greens, so I stopped into the Whole Foods in Annapolis on the way back from an errand to pick up some scallions, maybe some bok choy, maybe some Chinese broccoli.
The thing was, they didn’t have any of the greens I wanted, so it was time for Plan B. I went to the meat section to check out the selection. A very helpful butcher came out and asked if I needed any help, and I said, well, what have you got from the pig? And he said, we can probably cut you anything. So I said, how about the belly? It seemed like a good idea. I cook a lot of belly. He said, not that – we only have that frozen. So then I asked for the shank. It’s supposed to rain here tonight and braised shank sounded good. We walked back to the meat counter and I saw him discussing the matter with another meat guy, who was gesturing animatedly to his upper arm. At this I became excited, because why would a guy gesture to his arm if he didn’t mean to butcher exactly that cut?
The butcher emerged and informed me that they had no shank. I asked why his guy was gesturing to his arm so enthusiastically if they had no shank. He said that he was explaining that he could cut off the leg end of a fresh ham. At this I debated whether to tell him that, since the ham is really the ass end of the pig, he probably should have been pointing to another part of his body, but I demurred because we don’t know each other that well, and he seemed like a nice guy. He offered to show me the ham. I took one look and asked him to cut off the leg end, as offered, and then to wrap up both pieces.
This was a gullibility situation because we are going out for dinner tonight night for a birthday party, and on Thursday night we’re having sushi with a friend in town from Kurdistan, where the sushi is suspect. On Friday we’re going to a holiday party and on Saturday we’re headed up to NYC for the weekend. So I probably had no business roasting a twenty pound ham last night. Fifteen actually – I cut off five pounds of meat and ground it up for sausage. You might want to try this for a holiday because it’s good for a crowd – twenty pounds of ham will serve about 24 people.
Fresh ham, potato gratin, brussels sprouts
1 14 lb fresh ham
8 sage leaves, minced
leaves from 1 branch rosemary, minced
leaves from 6 branches thyme, minced
8 cloves garlic confit, smashed to a paste
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
1 tsp ground coriander
Combine the herbs, salt, spices, and oil. Set aside.
Trim the silverskin from the meat and any hanging clumps of fat from around the bone. Score the white surface fat on the ham in a diamond pattern by slicing through the fat in 1″ intervals, being careful not to cut through to the meat. Rub the oil mixture on the meat surfaces, and in the scored fat. Place 1 c water in the bottom of the roasting pan and place the ham on a v-rack.
Place the ham in the oven. At 30 minute intervals, turn the pan and baste the ham with the fat that drips into the pan. Roast 22 minutes per pound or until the meat is 155F near the bone. Depending on the thickness/size of the ham, you may need to roast longer; be sure to use a meat thermometer to ensure that the meat is about 155F near the bone. If you’re roasting a 15 pound ham, it’s going to take about six hours. Remove and rest for between 45-60 minutes, lightly tented.
Meanwhile, prepare a potato gratin and brussels sprouts to accompany the ham. The below recipe serves four. If you’re serving twelve (as for the ham), triple it; for 24, multiply by six.
1 lb starchy potatoes, like russets, peeled
1.5 c whole milk
6 cloves garlic confit, smashed to a paste
6 branches thyme
1/2 c grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
salt and pepper (truffle salt is nice and lends earthiness but not specific truffle flavor)
Butter a small casserole or gratin dishes.
Bring the milk, garlic confit, and thyme to a simmer, and simmer for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, slice the potatoes 1/8″ or thinner. You can use a food processor with a slicing blade.
Remove the thyme branches from the milk. Layer the potato slices, overlapping, in a single layer; season with salt. Repeat until the potatoes are gone. Ladle the milk mixture over the potatoes and spread grated cheese over the top.
Place in the oven (if you do not have room on a rack, place on the floor of the oven. Bake until potatoes are tender and milk is absorbed, about 40 minutes.
These are the most delicious ways I know to eat brussels sprouts. The second is more convenient than the first, but oil-frying delivers deep caramelized flavor. Again, the below recipes serve four – you can multiply the recipe but you do not necessarily need more oil – just keep frying in batches.
Olive oil fried brussels sprouts
2 c olive oil
2/3 lb Brussels sprouts, washed, dried well, and quartered
sea salt and pepper
Place the oil in a deep pan and heat to 335F. When hot, fry the sprouts in batches, being careful not to overcrowd the pan. Stand back as they will spatter. Remove with a skimmer and drain on paper towels or brown paper over a rack. Repeat until finished and season with salt and pepper.
Pan-sauteed brussels sprouts with bacon
Pancetta is a good stand-in but bacon’s smoky taste and hearty texture is a good foil for the sprouts. Tip: Bacon is easier to dice when frozen.
2/3 lb brussels sprouts, washed and halved
3 oz bacon, diced
sea salt and pepper
Place a pan over medium high heat. Add the diced bacon and saute until golden brown and fat has rendered. Remove bacon bits to a bowl; spoon off all but 1 tbsp fat and reserve.
Return the pan to medium heat and add sprouts, cut side down. After a minute, add 2 tbsp water and cover. After 2 minutes, lift the lid. Turn sprouts over and cook a minute more. Return bacon to pan, season with salt and pepper, and serve.