It’s been over two months since I cured, cold smoked, and hung up a picnic ham to dry. A few days before Super Bowl Sunday I checked the weight and saw it was ready for slicing!
I always have a feeling of excitement and little bit of trepidation when bringing up some freshly cured meat from the basement, especially if it’s a new cure and technique. My speck, which was the picnic ham’s curing buddy, had good flavor but was maybe a little too dry on the outside. Recalling this, questions began running through my mind about the picnic ham. Did it work better than the speck? Would the skin I left on protect the meat from drying out too fast? Would it dry too slowly? Will it have the same smoky flavor profile as the speck? Excited trepidation indeed.
I shouldn’t have worried, it turned out beautifully. You won’t be surprised by this revelation but it really tastes like ham. It has a much milder and sweeter ham-like flavor. Wait, no not ham-like flavor, HAM flavor, because that’s what it is (ok not technically since it was from the shoulder, details details). It does not have the strong smoky flavor of the speck, but a very faint smoke and tastes much more of the molasses cure. I really think I could have left it in the curing fridge for another month and it would have been fine as the skin did protect it from drying out too fast. In fact, it may have protected the inner meat too well, the closer you get to the bone the less dried it seems. I’m not worried about it though because when that’s all I’m left with I’ll just throw it in a pot and make some split pea soup.
Looking back, I could have shaped the picnic ham it a little better. When curing, the pork is weighted down and as a result flattens out. I should have taken some kitchen twine and re-shaped the picnic ham in a more cylindrical shape like I do with coppa, filleto, and lonza, which are also weighted down during the cure. A minor quibble but I think it would make it easier to slice as well as helping it dry in a more uniform manner.
Between the two, I think the picnic ham turned out the best. Cheryl said it might be one of the best things I’ve cured and dried so far. Not that the speck was ruined or bad but the picnic ham did what it was supposed to do and delivered a great cured product and a very recognizable flavor. To be honest I’m already thinking ahead and looking into what I need to do for a proper ham. I know it’s a much longer commitment but these results are very encouraging and with the successes I’ve had over the past year I think I’m ready. In the meantime, I’ll keep on making and eating some molasses picnic ham and cheese panini.