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Pody's column: Know your hams this holiday season

Serving ham during the holidays has long been a tradition. Today, choosing the right one can be challenging because of so many options.

When my mother prepared ham for dinner, she would go downstairs or to the freezer and bring out a big home-grown, cured and smoked ham. Years later I'd go to Duffy's Meat Market and tell Bob Duffy how many people we were serving. Then it was ordering one at Von Hanson's, all the time knowing the ham would be good and organic.

Today there are so many different kinds and we are not sure where they come from.

Most hams range from 15 to 22 pounds and half hams 6 to 12 pounds. A general rule to follow is to allow eight to 12 ounces of ham per serving. This will vary if it is a bone-in ham, a butt or rump half which comes from the upper thigh area of the leg. The shank half comes from the lower portion of the leg and has more tissue.

When selecting ham, look for a bright pink color and just a small amount of marbling in the meat.

Hams in grocery stores today are cured in a salt-water brine and then smoked.  Hams retain water during the process and must be labeled. The amount of water retained determines the price per pound of the ham. The high-quality ham contains no water. The meat is firm and must have 20.5 percent protein content. Both the water and protein content can vary slightly but must meet federal guidelines.

Other options are the type of wood used for smoking the hams and then deciding if you want  a spiral pre-cut ham, which has a tendency to dry out faster, or a fully cooked ham that just needs to be heated up.

Somehow it seemed a lot easier when mom brought the ham out or when we could order one from the friendly neighborhood meat market. When ordering or selecting your ham, remember to add a few pounds for leftovers. Most ham leftovers freeze well for a quick meal.

Breakfast casserole

1 16 ounce package frozen shredded hash browns

1/2 cup chopped onion

1 green pepper, chopped

2 cups fully cooked ham, cubed

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

12 eggs

1 cup milk

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Thaw hash browns.  Saute onion and green pepper in oil until tender.  Add ham and stir. Lightly beat eggs, milk, salt and pepper. Add ham mixture and cheese. Pour in buttered 9 x 13 pan.  Bake for 30 minutes in 350-degree preheated oven. Yield: 10 servings.