Sweet Tea-Brined Ham

country-ham-vertical-crdt-peter frank edwardsThe country hams of the South, like the famous Serrano hams of  Spain and prosciutto of Italy, rely on a salt cure that removes water from the meat until there’s not enough moisture left for microbes to grow, a vital step in the days before refrigeration. With origins in Depression-era Savannah, this recipe takes inspiration from Harriet Ross Colquitt’s The Savannah Cook Book, using tannins in tea to tame some—but not too much—of a country ham’s saltiness and turn it into a holiday table centerpiece. Slowly braising the untrimmed ham in beer and molasses helps infuse moisture back into the meat, which is naturally basted by the thick fat cap before it’s peeled away and replaced with a rind of sugar and the ham is baked again. The result blends the authentically rugged flavor of country ham with the sweetness and more-moist texture of city ham. “Fortunately,” writes Colquitt, “this is not quite as complicated as it sounds.” And it isn’t, although it does take time. As for that, here’s another pearl from Colquitt: “It would not be old-fashioned Southern cooking if time were an object or substitutes used.”

1 (14- to 16-lb.) uncooked bone-in country ham, such as S. Wallace Edwards & Sons, hock end removed, rinsed and scrubbed to remove mold and excess salt
20 tsp. loose black tea
1 (15-oz.) jar dark molasses (not blackstrap)
About 6 12-oz. bottles bock beer
1 cup dark brown sugar 24 to 32 whole cloves

In a large stockpot, bring 2 gallons of water to a boil over high heat. Stir in the tea leaves and half of the jar of molasses. Turn off the heat and let the mixture steep, about 1 hour. Pour 1 gallon of the mixture over the ham, and top with fresh cold water to cover (a spare cooler is the ideal vessel for this). Chill for 12 hours, then drain and cover with the remaining 1 gallon tea mixture and fresh cold water to cover. Chill for 12 hours more, then drain and rinse the ham, and prepare to cook it.

Preheat the oven to 400 ̊F.

Place the ham fat-side down in a large roasting pan with a lid (or tent with foil). Add the remaining half jar of molasses and pour in enough beer so that the liquid comes about halfway up sides of the ham. Cover and bake for 30 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 325 ̊F and continue to bake for 1½ hours. Remove the pan from the oven and carefully turn the ham fat-side up (spearing it with carving forks helps secure it for turning). Cover again and bake for 1½ to 2 hours more, until it comes to an internal temperature of 140 ̊F. Remove from the oven and let the ham cool in the liquid. Raise the oven temperature back to 400 ̊F.

Pour out the liquid from the roasting pan and discard it. Carefully carve the rind and most of the fat from the top of the ham, leaving about ⅛ inch of fat covering the exterior; discard the rind and excess fat. Cover the ham evenly with the brown sugar, pressing to help it adhere. Stud the ham evenly with cloves. Return the ham to the oven and bake uncovered for 15 minutes to allow the sugar to melt into the fat and form a flavorful dark brown crust. Remove from the oven and rest for at least 30 minutes. Thinly slice and serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 28.

Excerpted from The Southerner’s Cookbook: Recipes, Wisdom, and Stories by David DiBenedetto and the Editors of Garden & Gun (Harper Wave, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers). Copyright © 2015.