I suck at cooking meat. I’m terrible at it. I have no “feel” for animal flesh whatsoever. My culinary prowess revolves around vegetables, fattening and totally unsophisticated dessert bars and something called Super Nachos.
So last night we had some people over and I was looking in my basement freezer full of locally procured meat stuffs, wondering what to cook and I noticed we had one remaining uncured ham, or pork butt, left over from last year’s purchase of half a pig.
As I took it out, it dawned on me that I’d never roasted a meat thing PROPERLY in my life. I tend to either overcook it or — more often than not — grossly undercook it, which is why Jake and I end up eating a lot of vegetables and Super Nachos. But I’d seen a recipe for uncured ham in Cook’s Illustrated, aka, The OCD Guide to Cooking, that had sparked my imagination. It was just weird enough to make me think I could actually handle it.
It’s called Cola Ham wherein an uncured ham is marinated in A COCA-COLA BRINE for 24 hours then roasted with a sweet Coca-Coca lime jalapeno glaze. That sounds gross and unsophisticated, does it not? But apparently, Cola Ham is a southern culinary tradition (I called my neighbor Ellen, a southern cook if there ever was one, and she confirmed that this is true), and the south is ham country, and southerners are way serious about food, so I knew it must be delicious. The recipe appealed to me on two fronts: 1) It’s almost impossible to screw up meat that’s been brined for 24 hours; the brine locks in moisture and flavor so I didn’t have to worry about dry meat. And 2) it calls for Coca-Cola!!
Well, I’m happy to report that the meal was a success. The ham was unbelievably tender and juicy, it was unique, it was fantastic. The Coca-Cola added its own original flavor to the meat and tenderized it much more than a simple water/salt brine solution. Everyone raved. Maybe I have a future in meat cookery after all.
Note: Fresh, uncured ham, preferably the shank end, is called for in this recipe. It’s not suitable for cured, frozen hams you find at the grocery store. Your local butcher will have the right cut. Also, the original recipe called for a 6 to 8 pound ham; mine weighed 4 pounds, so I cut amounts by half (what you see here is for a 4-pound ham).
1 fresh bone-in uncured ham (4-6 pounds), preferably shank end, rinsed
3 liters of Coca-Cola
3/4 cup salt
1 garlic head, cloves separated, peeled and lightly crushed
5 bay leaves
1/4 cup black peppercorns, crushed
Add all brine ingredients to a large bucket or stockpot, stir to dissolve the salt. Add the ham, then cover. Refrigerate for 24 hours.
Remove the ham from the brine, rinse under cold water and dry completely with paper towels. Discard the brine. Place the ham wide cut-side down on a flat rack in a roasting pan. Let the ham stand, uncovered, at room temperature for one hour.
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. As it heats up, make the Garlic and Herb Rub.
GARLIC AND HERB RUB
1/2 cup lightly packed sage leaves
1/4 cup parsley
4 medium garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
Process all ingredients in a food processor for 30 seconds, or until it forms a smooth paste. Rub paste all over the ham.
Roast the rubbed ham at 500 degrees for 15 minutes. Remove ham from the oven. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and brush the ham with Coca-Cola Glaze with Lime and Jalapeno (recipe below). Continue to brush the ham with glaze every 30 minutes until the center of the ham registers 145 to 150 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, anywhere from 1 1/2 hours to 1 hour 45 minutes. Tent the ham loosely with foil and let stand until the center of the ham registers 155 to 150 degrees on the thermometer, about 30 minutes more. Carve and enjoy!
COCA COLA GLAZE WITH LIME AND JALAPENO
1/2 cup Coca-Cola
The juice from 1 lime
1 cup packed dark or light brown sugar
1 medium jalapeno, stemmed, seeded and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch thick slices
Bring ingredients to a boil in small saucepan over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until syrupy and reduced to a cup or so, 5 to 7 minutes. (The glaze will thicken as it cools.)