Country Ham Braised in Cider and Molasses

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Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Makes at least

    12

    servings, with leftovers for ham biscuits and other dishes

Appears in

The Glory of Southern Cooking

The Glory of Southern Cooking

By James Villas

Published 2007

  • About

Wilkes County, located high in the mountains of North Carolina, produces some of the greatest country hams in the entire South, and without question the best in the county hang in Clayton Long’s ham house at Glendale Springs, about ten miles from West Jefferson. Like his daddy (“Mr. G”) before him, Clayton is a maverick who would no more compromise the quality of his exquisite hams to streamline and increase production than he’d neglect the acres of Christmas trees he grows while the hundreds of hams are slowly aging under natural weather conditions in the ham house. Unlike most producers, he cures his hams with only salt and brown sugar; he uses no preservatives or coloring agents; he wouldn’t dream of aging a ham less than nine months; and he refuses to ship his hams across the state line, since this would require subjecting them to ludicrous federal regulations that might alter their quality. If you want a Long ham, you have no alternative but to make a special detour, as hundreds of loyal customers do every fall. The reward is the finest and least expensive country ham to be found anywhere (about thirty dollars, compared with seventy-five dollars and up elsewhere, for a 16-pound ham). I’ve cooked Clayton’s ham every way imaginable (besides simply frying it with red-eye gravy for breakfast), but perhaps the most unforgettable method is with this braise using apple cider and molasses.

Ingredients

  • One 14- to 16-pound cured country ham
  • 1 cup molasses
  • 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1 gallon apple cider
  • 3 medium onions, chopped
  • 3 medium carrots, scraped and chopped
  • 2 cups dry bread crumbs mixed with 2 cups firmly packed light brown sugar

Method

Scrub the ham well with a stiff kitchen brush under running water, then position it in a large, deep, oval pan. Add cool water to cover and let the ham soak for 12 hours at room temperature, changing the water twice.

Remove the ham from the pan, rinse the pan well, return the ham to the pan, and add enough fresh water to come halfway up the sides. Add the molasses and brown sugar to the water, stir as well as possible, then add enough cider to just cover the ham. Add the onions and carrots and bring the liquid to a very low simmer. Cover partially and simmer slowly for 3 hours. Let the ham cool completely in the liquid.

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Place the ham on a work surface, remove the skin and all but ¼ inch of the fat, and score the fat in diamonds with a sharp knife. Rinse the roasting pan well after discarding the contents, then place the ham in the pan on a rack fat side up and coat with the bread-crumb/brown-sugar mixture, pressing down with your fingers. Bake, uncovered, till the crumbs are browned, 20 to 30 minutes.

To serve, position the ham on a large, heavy wooden or ceramic platter and carve into thin slices with an electric or serrated knife.