Most travelers visit Baltimore and the Chesapeake Bay area strictly to eat steamed blue crabs and other seafood, unaware that in southern Maryland, especially around Mechanicsville, in St. Mary’s County, another great regional specialty is served in cozy taverns and small restaurants: spicy braised fresh or lightly cured ham stuffed with cabbage, celery, kale, watercress, or a variety of other greens. Typically, customers begin a meal with a crab cake, but the real treat is the colorful ham bursting with different flavors and washed down with plenty of local beer. One of the secrets of this unique dish is to allow the ham to cool in its broth overnight—so plan accordingly. Unlike braised country ham, this style of ham is usually served in thick slices.
Place the cabbage, watercress, onions, celery, dry mustard, salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper in a stockpot or roasting pan large enough to fit the ham. Add enough water to reach within 1 inch of the top of the vegetables, stir, and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let the vegetables stand 10 minutes in the hot water. Drain the vegetables in a colander over a bowl to catch the broth, let cool, and reserve the broth.
With a sharp knife, cut Xs about 1 inch square and 2 inches deep all over the ham and fill each X with vegetable stuffing. Wrap the ham in a wide double thickness of cheesecloth and tie the ends to secure it tightly.
Place the ham in the pot along with the reserved broth and add enough water to cover. Place a lid on the top, bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer the ham for 2 to 2½ hours, adding water as needed to keep it covered. Turn off the heat and let the ham cool in the liquid, preferably overnight.
When ready to serve, reheat the ham in its liquid, transfer to a cutting board or large platter, remove and discard the cheesecloth, and cut in thick slices.
© 2007 All rights reserved. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.