Roasted Fresh Ham with Citrus and Rye

Roasted Fresh Ham with Citrus and RyeMeat The Challenge

As with most families during the holidays, mine likes to split duty for the numerous meals that happen in the 48 hours between midnight December 24 and midnight (or sometimes later) December 25. I am responsible for Christmas Eve Dinner.

I see Christmas Eve Dinner as a yearly challenge to see what off the wall, out of the box, totally different thing I can make for a party of 15. I think it’s fun. My Meat Department doesn’t always see the humor in making them hunt for the obscure at a time when they are so busy they just want to sit in the corner and drool.

All year long I throw little challenges their way just to see if they can pull it off. But I get even more creative during the holidays—just think Willy Wonka, but with meat. (You’re right. Bad visual!)

Last year I ordered a slab of pork belly, complete with the skin, to make a Porchetta. For obvious reasons, this is not something we normally carry. (I am that 1 in 1000 who thinks this would be super cool to make myself.) My guys in the Meat Department ordered it for me and it was awesome. The good news is that I’m not special. My guys will special order for all y’all…even whole pigs. We’ve sold a few of those recently.

Other wacky meals included whole sides of salmon (not much of a challenge), Ducks, Geese (for Christmas Dinner), and a fresh Ham (otherwise known as a Leg of Pork). This year I tried for venison, but it turned out to be a little too difficult and cost prohibitive. We are talking dinner for 15 and I do actually have limits to my mania, though my husband may disagree.

I am giving the guys a break this year, and going with the fresh ham again because it was really good. You have to plan ahead since its needs to cure it for 4 days. But once you have the spice mixture on the ham, you just flip it every day to make sure the flavor gets everywhere. The results are well worth the effort, and it is an impressive presentation for a buffet table.
Roasted Fresh Ham with Citrus and Rye
Adapted from The Bon Appétit Test Kitchen

Unlike your traditional holiday ham, fresh ham is uncured and unsmoked. We pack it in an herb cure for several days for incredible flavor and juiciness. When roasted, the skin transforms into addictive, crispy-sweet cracklings that may cause fighting among guests.

1 12-pound fresh ham, cut from the shank end
1/2 cup chopped fresh sage
1/4 cup kosher salt plus more for seasoning
2 tablespoons finely grated orange zest
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes
4 whole star anise
1/3 cup rye whiskey or bourbon
1 cup fresh orange juice
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth (optional)
1 tablespoon chilled unsalted butter

Using a sharp knife, carefully score skin of ham at 3/4 to 1 inch intervals in a crosshatch pattern. Take care to cut just through skin and fat, and not into the meat.

Whisk the sage, 1/4 cup salt, orange zest, and red pepper flakes in a small bowl. Rub the salt mixture all over ham. Transfer the ham and any excess salt mixture to a jumbo (two gallon) resealable plastic bag. Place the ham in your bag on a large-rimmed baking sheet and chill. Turn the ham every day for the next four days to ensure it cures evenly.

Remove the ham from the bag and pat it dry with paper towels. Let the ham stand at room temperature for two hours.

Arrange a rack in the lower third of your oven and preheat the oven to 500°F. Place the ham with the shank bone up, on a rack in a roasting pan.

Roast ham until skin turns deep golden brown and starts to puff, about 20 minutes. Reduce heat to 325°F. Carefully add 1 cup water to pan (it may spatter) and roast, rotating pan once, for 1 hour.

Add two cups of water to the pan. Scatter star anise around ham; continue to roast, rotating pan every 45 minutes and adding more water if needed to maintain 1/4″ liquid in bottom of pan, until skin is deep golden brown and crisp and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of ham registers 140°F, 1 1/2-2 hours more. If skin does not crisp within last 30 minutes of cooking, increase heat to 450°F and roast about 5 minutes longer (watch closely).

Transfer ham to a carving board; let rest for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 1/2 hours (the ham’s internal temperature will increase as it rests to about 150°F). Pour juices from roasting pan through a fine-mesh sieve into a large measuring cup; set juices aside and discard solids in strainer.

Set roasting pan over two burners; add rye. Cook over high heat, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of pan, until rye is reduced by half, about 1 minute. Pour rye through same sieve into the measuring cup with ham juices. Chill in freezer for 15 minutes (this will make skimming the fat from the surface much easier).

Skim fat from surface of juices; discard. Transfer juices (you should have about 1 cup) to a medium saucepan. Add orange juice and broth or 1 cup water. Bring to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Cook until reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 20 minutes.

Remove pan from heat; stir in butter. Season sauce with salt, if needed. Carve ham. Pass sauce alongside.

photo: Ditte Isager

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