Ginger-kissed with a mustard-glazed sweetness, this ham roast is a revelation of how juicy, flavorful, and succulent this cut of pork can be. But, the key to it is in getting to know your farmer, and learning how he cares, feeds, and humanely raises his livestock. It is the essence of sustainability in eating local and beginning to understand the difference it makes in quality and social responsibility.
My farmer friend Charles Thompson runs Market Basket farm (listed on our Faces and Places page) on the outskirts of Lafayette in Youngsville, Louisiana, where he grows organic vegetables and raises heritage breeds of Berkshire, Large Black, and Duroc hogs. A Saturday-morning regular at the Hub City Farmers’ Market in Lafayette’s Oil Center, Charles is passionate about his craft and brings a chef’s eye to his farming techniques and choice of crops.
Buying “hog shares” is a smart way to buy pork. You know you’re purchasing a quality, pasture-raised pig, and you’re helping sustain a local farmer who brings his products and passion to market. While this is not always cheaper than buying run-of-the-mill supermarket pork, it is most always a cost-efficient way to load up your freezer with high-quality, artisan breed pork. What starts out as a 250-pound Berkshire hog dresses out around 175 pounds, and Charles sells his hogs in whole shares or half shares that require a few months from purchase to butchering.
My friend Cle’ Simon and I split a half share, and when the day arrived, we loaded up an ice chest and made the trek to pick up our pig. Butchered in Morse, Louisiana at Elliot’s slaughterhouse, this hog was professionally pieced and parceled from tail to snout into manageable cuts. Chops, loin, belly, shoulder roasts, jowls, backbone, ground pork, ribs, even liver and caul fat, were hermetically sealed, double wrapped, and labeled for efficient storage.
The cut that most intrigued me was a fresh, 4.5-pound ham roast. Cut from the hind leg of the Berkshire, this was ham like I had never seen before. I can bake a sugar-cured, spiral-cut holiday ham with the best of them, but this was an untraveled pork path for me. Raw (uncured and unsmoked), I wasn’t exactly sure how to treat this cut, but Charles (a chef-certified farmer) assured me that a long flavor-filled braise would work magic on this ham with dramatic results.
Light bulbs started going off in my head as I brainstormed my culinary memory banks for braising techniques of past successes. Beer is always a good option, and apple juice with ham just makes sense. But, it was a leftover four-pack of ginger beer hidden in the pantry from a long ago Moscow Mule party that got my braising juices flowing. Ginger beer is not beer (alcohol) at all, but rather a culinary cousin of root beer that is produced by the natural fermentation of prepared ginger spice, yeast, and sugar. And with a blend like that, I just know this combination will work. I decided to use apple juice for the brine, and fresh apples and rosemary as my braising flavor enhancers. And to gild this lily, I decided on sugarcane syrup blended with Dijon mustard to glaze on a finishing touch.
This is an unusual spin on ham that is a must-try recipe. I urge you to find a farmer or a butcher who can deliver a fresh ham roast for your dinner table, and I predict it will quickly become a standout in your recipe portfolio.
- 1 (4 to 5-pound) fresh ham roast
- Apple juice
- ¼ cup salt
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 4-pack ginger beer
- 2 medium yellow onions, cut in half
- 2 large apples, cut in half
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 1 cup Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons sugarcane syrup
- Place the ham in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Add enough apple juice to cover and stir in the salt to combine. Cover and place in the refrigerator for 6 hours or overnight. Remove from the container, rinse any excess salt from the meat, and pat dry.
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the oil and heat until sizzling hot. Sprinkle the ham roast with black pepper and brown on both sides, 5 to 8 minutes.
- Remove the roast from the skillet and place in an ovenproof baking pan. Add enough ginger beer to come halfway to ¾ the way up the side of the roast (do not cover in liquid). Place the onion and apple halves around the roast. Add the garlic and submerge the rosemary in the braising liquid. Cover and place in the oven for 2 hours or until the roast is fork tender.
- Meanwhile, make the glaze by combining the mustard and sugarcane syrup in a mixing bowl. Keep at room temperature for later.
- Remove the roast from the oven and uncover. Remove the onion halves and rosemary stems. Pour off all but 1 cup of the braising liquid and reserve. Brush on the mustard glaze, covering the top and all sides with a generous coating. Return the roast to the oven and bake uncovered until the glaze sets and just begins to brown on top, 20 to 30 minutes.
- For serving, slice the ham roast against the grain and serve with any remaining pan juices and mustard glaze on the side. Garnish with a sprig of fresh rosemary. I suggest serving this ham roast with a big bowl of mustard potato salad, a loaf of rustic farmhouse bread, and mugs of ice-cold beer.
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