By Caroline Dipping
Just as Peeps and chocolate bunnies are de rigueur in Easter baskets, so is a leg o’ lamb or a half ham the quintessential centerpiece for a spring feast. And because these meats are holiday fare, they need to be dolled up in their prettiest — and tastiest — finery.
For ham, you want it to shine bright with fruity glazes. As the good editors at America’s Test Kitchen say, “A cured ham without a shiny, sweet glaze is like a hug without a squeeze: incomplete.”
With lamb, you need to spread it on thick. Aromatic herbs and spices rubbed into the meat and left to meld for hours is the ideal treatment for this harbinger of spring.
“Lamb is Easter,” said meat-cutter Stan Glenn of Iowa Meat Farms and Siesel’s Meats. “American lamb has a slightly strong flavor, so it can stand up to stronger herbs.
“Traditionally, rosemary, garlic and lemon are used. The more garlic, the better.”
Glenn has one regular customer, a local university professor, who orders a whole lamb for Easter. In addition to studding the meat with garlic and herbs, he lays on a secret ingredient.
“The kicker is anchovy fillets,” Glenn said. “They just melt during the cooking process and season the meat beautifully.”
Chef Ryan Johnston of Whisknladle in La Jolla, Calif., likes to make the most of young spring lambs from Niman Ranch by patting them down with a variety of spice concoctions and roasting them. Still, he likes to keep things simple and not mask the flavor of the meat.
“I think people from an older generation were served a lot of mutton, which has a real gamy flavor,” said Johnston of many people’s stand that they don’t like the taste of lamb. “Unless it’s a rack of lamb, people think it’s weird and will order the pork.
“But nowadays, lamb is treated really well, has a less gamy flavor and is more like beef almost,” he said. “I like Niman Ranch lamb because their lamb tastes like lamb. It’s like I go to Chino Farms (in Del Mar, Calif.) because their carrots taste like carrots.”
Ham, the other Easter meat, yields just as easily to simple treatment.
Glenn is forever reminding his customers: “You aren’t cooking ham; you are just heating it.” Hams in supermarkets and big-box stores are already fully cooked. All they need is a gentle heat-up with an oven temperature as low as 225 degrees.
And mopping on the shine, so to speak, shouldn’t take place until the last 20 to 30 minutes, Glenn said.
For ham glazes, Glenn is old school. He prefers formulas without a high sugar content.
For simplicity, he says, you could go further and fare worse than the tried and true brown sugar-mustard-fruit juice melange. He also favors an apricot-pineapple preserve cut with a little pineapple juice and seasoned with nutmeg, a bit of clove and a pinch of cinnamon.
“We’ve been using that glaze in the deli at Siesel’s for years,” said Glenn. “I learned to make it from my mother.”
DR PEPPER-GLAZED HAM
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup Dr Pepper
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 (7- to 10-pound) spiral-sliced, bone-in half ham, preferably shank end
Makes 20 servings
Bring the sugar, Dr Pepper, orange juice and mustard to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the mixture is thickened and reduced to 3/4 cup, about 8 minutes. (The glaze can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days; when ready to use, microwave on high until warmed through, one to three minutes.)
Unwrap the ham; remove and discard the plastic disk that covers the bone. Place the ham in a plastic oven bag and tie securely. Transfer the ham, cut side down, to a large roasting pan and cut 4 slits in the top of the bag. Let sit at room temperature for one and a half hours.
Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position and heat the oven to 250 degrees. Bake the ham until the center registers 100 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half hours.
Remove the ham from the oven, and roll back the oven bag. Brush the ham with the glaze and return to the oven until the glaze becomes sticky, about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and transfer to a carving board. Brush the ham again with the glaze, tent loosely with foil, and let rest for 15 minutes. Carve, and serve.
From Fine Cooking, April 1995.
Caroline Dipping writes about food for The San Diego Union-Tribune.
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