My love of books began very early in life. I learned to read at age 4 and quickly moved from The Three Little Pigs (which left me terrified of a big bad wolf that I was certain lurked outside my window at night) to Encyclopedia Brown, and by first grade National Velvet. My parents had two black bookcases on either side of the wood stove which heated our house and it was just a few years before my book collection claimed an entire bookcase. Most of my friends lost TV privileges or had to go to bed early when they got into trouble. Not me. I loved to read so much that the most effective form of punishment was to take away books. Dropping an “Oh sh*t” in earshot of my father after throwing a gutter ball at my second grade birthday party landed me with a two week book restriction. Pure misery!

Each year our local library would hold a giant book sale, clearing out old and donated books they didn’t need. I eagerly looked forward to those sales as you could buy an entire grocery bag of books for a few dollars. It was the perfect way to support a book habit on a third grade allowance. One year at the sale, after recently discovering my love for cooking, I came across books from Time Life’s The Good Cook series on meat. Published in the 1970′s, each book contained a comprehensive chart of butcher cuts and step-by-step photographs of techniques such as how to debone various cuts of meat or how to make sausages by hand. The recipes were far ahead of their time with ingredients that became trendy decades later such as adobo, pork belly, and juniper.

While many of the books I purchased in that era are boxed up and now waiting for kids whom I hope will love to read as much as we do, the Time Life meat books have remained close at hand for the past twenty years. The instructions and recipes are invaluable for when you find yourself with a freezer full of unusual cuts of meat after buying half a hog or a quarter of a cow from a local farmer (yes, I’m guilty of both!).

I found myself in just that situation recently, when I pulled a five pound ham steak out of the freezer. After searching online for ideas to no avail I turned to the trusted Time Life “Pork” book for guidance. I determined that a ham steak is basically the center cut of a larger ham. Raw and uncured, the ham was in its natural state ready to be cooked. Once, while in high school, I prepared an uncured ham for Easter following a method from the Time Life book and I decided to go that route once again with the ham steak.

A simple method with spectacular results, this recipe is an easy way to create a holiday dinner worthy roast. One or two days before cooking the ham, you cut thin slits in the meat and insert slivers of garlic into the cuts. A healthy amount of kosher salt and fresh herbs are rubbed all over the pork and then you let the flavors mix together over a day or more in the fridge. A few hours in the oven and frequently basting with wine creates a juicy, richly glazed ham. The garlic mellows with cooking and adds a savory background note to each slice. Served with a thinly layered potato gratin and a drizzle of pan juices it is the perfect plate of holiday comfort food!

Roasted Fresh Ham or Ham Steak (Printable Recipe)
Adapted from Time Life’s The Good Cook “Pork”
Serves 8
(Note: This recipe can easily be adjusted for an entire fresh ham . Proportionally increase the brine ingredients by the additional pounds of ham and lengthen the cooking time by about 25 minutes per pound to reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees at the thickest part of the ham.)

1 5lb Fresh Uncured Ham Steak, Outer rind removed
1 1/2 cups red wine

Brine:

2 Tablespoons Kosher Salt
2 Tablespoons Thyme
1 Tablespoon Sage
8 Garlic Cloves cut into thin slivers

Directions:

In a small bowl, mix together the salt, thyme, and sage. With a sharp knife cut a 1/4 inch deep slit into the ham and insert a garlic sliver into the slit. Repeat, ensuring the garlic is evenly distributed on all sides of the ham. Rub the salt mixture all over the ham and then place it on a large plate. Cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 days.

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the ham on a rack set inside a roasting pan. Insert an oven safe meat thermometer into the thickest part of the ham. Put the ham in the oven and cook for 10 to 20 minutes (use the longer time for a larger roast). Reduce the heat to 325 degrees, and continue to cook until the ham exudes fat and juices, about 30 minutes. At this point begin to baste the ham with the pan juices at 20 minute intervals. When the ham is about three quarters done (registering about 115 degrees on a meat thermometer), remove it from the oven and carefully transfer it on the rack to a large plate or cutting board. Pour the fat out of the pan and discard. Add wine to the pan and stir briskly to deglaze any stuck bits from the bottom of the pan. Place the ham on the rack back in the pan and return the pan to the oven. Continue to cook the ham, basting every 10-20 minutes, until the ham reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees. For a 5 lb ham roast the total cooking time was approximately 90 minutes, a larger roast will take longer. Remove the ham from the oven and let it rest, tented with foil, for 15 minutes. Carve the ham into thin slices by cutting from one end across the grain. Serve with any remaining pan juices on the side.

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