No Easter dinner would be complete without an Easter ham with all the fixings.
Choosing an Easter Dinner Ham
While it's a given that there will be a ham on the table to celebrate Easter, what kind of ham you choose to serve will determine the way the ham is prepared.
- Cook Before Eating Ham - This ham has been partially cooked but must be cooked until done before being served.
- Country Ham - Country ham is an uncooked dry cured ham. Although these dry cured hams are safe to be stored at room temperature, they need to be fully cooked before eating. The dry curing involves a lot of salt and the ham needs to be soaked before cooking to remove the salt from the ham. The soaking process can take as long as several hours or overnight. If your country ham has mold on the skin, don't panic...this is natural. Just scrub the country ham with a stiff brush under running water. If the mold is particularly stubborn, you can cut away the skin on which the mold has developed.
- Fresh Ham - This ham, which is not cured and needs to be stored in a refrigerator, must be fully cooked before serving. Fresh ham is very popular as an Easter ham. Because the term "ham" usually refers to a cured meat product, fresh ham is really only a ham because it is from the same cut, the rear leg of the pig, as cured hams.
- Fully Cooked Ham - Fully cooked ham is, as its name implies, fully cooked and ready to eat as is. It can be reheated in the oven for a delicious dinner.
Cooking to the Proper Temperature
Since modern farming techniques have pretty much eliminated trichinosis as a threat, pork no longer needs to be cooked to "super well done." In fact, overcooking your ham only prevents you from serving tender pork. In the past, when trichinosis was a concern, most people cooked their Easter ham to an inedible 180-185 degrees.
But food science has shown that trichinae, the bacteria that causes trichinosis, dies at 137 degrees, so we no longer have to worry about eating pork that has been cooked to less than 180 degrees. In fact, you can safely eat pork cooked to 150 degrees but since the government says that pork should be cooked to 160 degrees, you can aim for that temperature. Cooking your pork to 160 degrees will kill salmonella and will guarantee that your Easter ham is completely safe to eat.
However, if you happen to have a fully cooked ham, all you need to do is heat it in your oven to 145 degrees. Baking the ham at 350 degrees for 15 minutes per pound will cook it to the proper temperature.
A Centuries Old Tradition
The tradition of eating a ham at this time of the year could have started as a way to finish off the stored preserved foods that the peasants used to survive the winter. A large air cured ham could easily last through the winter and would be a tasty way to say goodbye to the preserved foods of the winter and hello to the fresh foods of spring and summer. That Easter ham on your table is a continuation of a centuries old tradition of celebrating the end of winter and the arrival of the new season of growth.