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HAM OFF 2010!

January 22, 2010 | Frank Bonanno

The Bone-in Ham Laws:
1. Dry cure only—no pink salt.
2. All curing, sewing, prep, etc. must be done in the same kitchen.
3. All drying or aging must be done at home.
4. Must have a written recipe.
5. Must try own ham 48 hours prior to ham-off
6. Tasting starts 1” from bottom.
7. Need one photo per week of ham.
The contestants: David Blumberg, Mike Peshek, (Cheesy) Mike Longhurst, Hunter Pritchett, Frank Bonanno.
So far, the most difficult part was finding pig hind legs with the skin still on them (thank God, once again, for Fresh Guys). Five legs, a simple rinse, a salt pack—and here our paths toward hamhood diverge.
Frank: Me, I like a traditional Parma take on prosciutto. My rub consisted of sea salt, brown sugar, nutmeg, a teeny bit of allspice, and a generous amount of paprika. Minute dusting of dextrose and corn solids.
Pesh: Goes for sea salt, fennel seed, all spice, juniper berry, black pepper corn. Prefers more of a San Danielle style of prosciutto and aromatic spices that carry a bit of a bite.
Hunter: Rubs the leg in smoked sea salt, rock salt, cinnamon, cloves, juniper berries, bay, brown sugar. Likes the idea of a sort of ham hybrid—something between a Virginia ham and prosciutto sweet and earthy.
Blumberg: Cloves, crushed red pepper, fennel, whole pepper, paprika, sea salt, rock salt, and white sugar for the rub. Not looking for a particular style of ham, but wants to see how much the spices actually lend to the flavor and color of the final product. All part of a grand experiment.
Grande Mike: Goes for a mellow heat in his rub. Salt, black pepper, chile negro, ancho chile, fresno chile, fennel, coriander, mustard seed and star anise. He’s looking for something like a cross between Serrano and a prosciutto. Something with kick and complexity.
We all re-salted after Day Three—except Cheesy Mike, who’s suddenly secretive about his process. David and Hunter do so without the extra spices. Probably one more salting before the true aging begins. Then we wait. . wait for the legs to lose about a third of their body weight. Wait for the first signs of maturity as the meat begins creeping away from the leg bone. We’ll tend to the areas where the meat becomes exposed with lardo (to prevent it from turning to jerky). And we’ll wait some . . .
Anywhere from 9 to 14 months in all.
If the wait doesn’t pay off in tasty ham, then it will at least have been well worth the education.
Photos pending . . .