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It’s Not About Me. Really.

I do not come from ham-eating people.


Bacon, of course. Pepperoni, sure.


But the occasion for a roast ham did not arrive until last Christmas, when I volunteered to make the festive meal for friends — excellent cooks and ham lovers, all.


I roped in my mother, a veteran of beef Wellington and roast goose. I assured her that there was nothing more to it than sticking the ham in a hot oven and glazing it with some happy combination of sugar, spice, fruit and liquor.


But when we wrestled it onto the counter, even the ham’s size seemed daunting. “Which side is the top?” my mother asked.


I suspect we are not the first cooks to find a whole ham bewildering. What with air-drying and hickory-smoking, wet-curing and salt-rubbing, maple-glazing and honey-baking, it takes many steps to turn pork into ham. And within the ham family, there are innumerable combinations and variations from which to choose.


What most American cooks procure for Easter dinner is a wet-cured, lightly smoked, prebaked ham, what neighborhood butchers called a city ham, when there were still neighborhood butchers.


There is nothing particularly urban about city ham, the meat expert Bruce Aidells said, but the name took hold as shorthand. “It tells you what these are not, which is country ham,” he said.

肉类专家布鲁斯·艾德尔(Bruce Aidells)说,“城市火腿”其实没什么城市特色,但是这个名字作为一种简称被沿用了下来。“它就是告诉你这种火腿不是乡村火腿,”他说。

Country hams are one of the oldest American food traditions and are still produced by a few smokehouses, like Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams in Tennessee, and Col. Bill Newsom’s Aged Kentucky Country Ham in Kentucky. They undergo a long, slow, air-drying process, along the same lines as Italian prosciutto and Spanish jamón.

乡村火腿是美国最古老的传统食物之一,目前还有几家熏制品厂生产这种火腿,比如田纳西州的“本顿烟熏山乡村火腿厂”(Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams)和肯塔基州的“比尔·纽山姆上校老肯塔基乡村火腿厂”(Col. Bill Newsom’s Aged Kentucky Country Ham)。这种火腿要经过长时间的缓慢的风干过程,与意大利熏火腿和西班牙火腿一脉相承。

Country hams have become a cult item for food lovers, even as city hams have languished. Except for holidays, baked ham is now seen rarely on American tables at dinner, only occasionally at breakfast and almost never in restaurants, even as bacon has become as ubiquitous as butter.


“It’s a dying product,” said Tim Harris, who imports jamón and meat from acorn-fed pigs in Spain for his family’s food company in Williamsburg, Va., La Tienda.

“它是一种正在消亡的产品,”提姆·哈里斯(Tim Harris)说。他的家族食品厂La Tienda位于弗吉尼亚州的威廉斯堡,他从西班牙进口火腿和肉类,这些肉制品是用橡果喂养的猪做成的。

This is partly because the salt and nitrates in commercial hams have become less appealing to consumers, even as the hams themselves have become less succulent. It is boring to keep pointing out that most pigs today are bred to be lean, but it remains true. The hams that come from these pigs, although plump and pink, are no exception. (The pink color comes from nitrates used in curing.) The thigh is a working muscle, not very marbled with fat, and modern hams tend to be dry, not juicy.


To combat dryness and add flavor, producers inject hams with salt brine, along with other, less innocuous, liquids. The brine provides the characteristic quick cure, sweet flavor and long shelf life of city hams. It may contain sugar, syrup or honey; sodium nitrite and nitrates; or “cure accelerators” like sodium ascorbate and preservatives like sodium erythorbate.


Sara Bigelow, who is in charge of ham at the Meat Hook, a butcher shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, said that not all additives are problematic. “You have to use some nitrites or it won’t have that ham taste,” she said. “The question is how much you use, and what else you do.”

莎拉·毕格罗(Sara Bigelow)在布鲁克林威廉斯堡的一家肉店Meat Hook负责制作火腿。她说并不是所有的添加剂都有问题。“你必须得加一些硝酸盐,不然就没有火腿味了,”她说,“问题是你加多少,以及你还加些别的什么东西。”

Depending on what is in the brine and how much of it is added, the Food and Drug Administration has developed intricate rules for labeling ham, some of them helpful in unearthing the ham you want for your holiday table. In commercial production, the smoke flavor of a ham can be injected in a brine; massaged in by “tumbling” the ham in a machine; or even sprayed on. Such a ham may list “hickory smoke” as one of its ingredients, but may not be labeled “hickory smoked.”

依据盐卤的成分和用量,美国食品药品监督管理局(Food and Drug Administration)制订了火腿成分标签的复杂规则,其中一些规则能帮你找出你在节日餐桌上想要的火腿。在生产过程中,火腿的烟熏味可以通过注入盐卤获得;也可以通过把火腿放入机器中“按摩”获得;还可以喷上去。这样做出的火腿可以把“山核桃木烟”列入成分之中,但是不能标注为“山核桃木熏制”。

Hams labeled “ham and water products” or “ham — water added” are brined to the point that the natural pork flavor is compromised, and the texture becomes spongy. A “ham with natural juices” has less liquid added to it and more pork flavor; this is the category that most baked hams belong in.


If it all sounds unappetizing, be assured that the country’s best hams — from producers committed to real wood smoke, pure maple syrup and pasture-raised pigs — are worth seeking out. Going through a trusted butcher is one way to get your hands on them, but with e-commerce, anyone can order from top producers like Snake River Farms and Flying Pigs Farm, the upstate farm that provides ham for the chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

如果这些都吊不起你的胃口,那你就去寻找美国最好的火腿——用真正的木烟、纯粹的枫糖浆和散养的猪做成的火腿。让你信任的肉店老板推荐是其中一个方法,但是使用网购的话,任何人都能订到最好的厂家生产的火腿,比如“蛇形河农场”(Snake River Farms)和“飞猪农场”(Flying Pigs Farm),后者位于美国北部,它为大厨让-乔治·冯格里奇顿(Jean-Georges Vongerichten)提供火腿。

To sort through the options, I assembled a panel at The Times to taste a range of baked hams, all nationally available. The group included my colleagues Melissa Clark and Jeff Gordinier; Robert Newton, the chef and an owner at Seersucker in Brooklyn, where ham finds its way into almost every dish; and Sara, who brought along one of her own excellent hams, smoked one day earlier over cherry and apple wood.

为了理清所有这些选择,我在《纽约时报》组织了一个研究小组,品尝各种烤火腿,所用的火腿在美国都能买到。这个小组包括我的同事梅丽莎·克拉克(Melissa Clark)和杰夫·高迪涅(Jeff Gordinier);大厨罗伯特·纽顿(Robert Newton),他在布鲁克林有家店,名叫Seersucker,这家店的每道菜里几乎都有火腿;还有莎拉,她带来了自制的一种好吃的火腿,是前一天用樱桃木和苹果木熏制的。

Baked hams have a basic flavor profile of sweet, salt and smoke, but there are some regional variations, like maple syrup cures in the Northeast and smoking over hickory wood in the South. Our quest was a ham that would “hit all the ham notes,” Robert said. I bought only hams that were on the bone (which ensures that the ham is a single joint, not a mash-up), were smoked over wood and contained minimal added liquid. Many came from second- and third-generation smokehouses like Burgers’ in Missouri, Nueske’s in Wisconsin and Harrington’s of Vermont; they cost from $2 a pound to $12.


Since most smokehouses do not raise their own pigs, animal welfare was not one of the criteria for this tasting, but more and more farmers provide information about the living conditions of their animals. (My ham from Flying Pigs arrived with a postcard of the farmers Jen Small and Michael Yezzi, sitting on the grass surrounded by their pasture-raised Tamworth hogs.)

因为大多数肉品厂不是自己养猪,所以动物福利不是此次品尝的一个标准,但是越来越多的农场主提供关于动物生活条件的信息(我购买的来自“飞猪农场”的火腿随附一张农场主珍·斯莫尔[Jen Small]和迈克尔·耶兹[Michael Yezzi]的明信片,他们坐在草地上,周围是散养的塔姆沃思猪)。

Although we liked all of the hams, there was a surprising range of tastes and textures. The hams fell into two groups: those that Melissa termed “child-friendly” hams, with a softness and mild sweetness, and those that Jeff described as “elevated,” with emphatic smoke and a robust, meaty texture. The former is the type sold across the country at places like HoneyBaked Ham. Founded in 1962 by the inventor of spiral slicing, the company now has more than 400 franchise stores. “My parents still get one of those every Easter,” said Sara, who was raised in Los Angeles. “Even the year I carried one of my hams all the way across the country for them to taste.”

虽然我们喜欢所有的火腿,但是火腿口味和质地的多样化还是让我们感到意外。这些火腿分为两类:一类是梅丽莎所说的“适合孩子吃的”火腿,比较柔软,有微微的甜味;另一类是杰夫所说的“提升版”,烟味浓,比较硬,含肉多。前者在美国各地都能买到,比如在“蜜烤火腿店”(HoneyBaked Ham)里。这家店始于1962年,其创始人发明了漩涡切肉法,目前有超过400家加盟店。“我的父母每年复活节仍会买一块这样的火腿,”莎拉说。她是在洛杉矶长大的,“就连那年我带着自制的火腿横跨整个美国让他们品尝,他们还是买了。”

The overall favorite, from Harrington’s, was in the latter group. Its smoke was forceful, but didn’t devour the meat; it had a nice chew; and its sweetness was pronounced, a component that was lacking in the more “adult” hams. (We tasted all of them without any glaze or sauce.)


Each ham had little or no fat on the outside, a visual clue that the meat inside would tend toward dry. That was the principal disappointment of the tasting; no ham was juicy and moist after being heated through, and it was hard to imagine eating a steak sliced off any of them.


There are at least two ways to combat the dryness of modern hams. One is with money; as of this month, you can buy an exquisitely juicy ham made from imported Ibérico pork and smoked by the venerable Virginia firm S. Wallace Edwards & Sons. Available from La Tienda, a boneless ham weighing about five pounds costs $249.

至少有两种方法可以解决现代火腿发干的问题。一种方法就是多花钱:这个月,你可以购买弗吉尼亚州历史悠久的“S·华莱士·爱德华&桑斯肉品厂”(S. Wallace Edwards & Sons)用进口的伊比利亚(Ibérico)猪肉精心熏制的多汁的火腿。你可以在La Tienda买到,重约5磅的无骨火腿大约需要249美元。

Or you can combat dryness in the cooking pot, as my mother and I ultimately did. Baked hams are precooked, but most recipes call for baking them again for two to three hours. This seemed like a recipe for fatally dried-out meat.


In the absence of a family ham tradition, we followed our own tradition: we consulted Julia Child’s books. Her prescription seemed sensible: braise the ham in wine and water to finish the cooking, then roast it in a hot oven to crisp the surface. The end result was glazed with mustard and brown sugar and crusted with golden bread crumbs. Having spent two hours underwater, the meat was tender, juicy and much less salty than the hams I’ve tasted on other people’s tables.

因为我们家里没有吃火腿的传统,所以我们就依照自己的习惯做事:我们查询朱丽叶·查尔德(Julia Child)的菜谱。她的处方似乎很有道理:在红酒和水中炖火腿,然后在热炉子里烤,让表皮变脆。最后涂上芥末和红糖,撒上金色的面包屑。因为在水里炖了两个小时,肉变得嫩而多汁,咸味也比我在别人家的餐桌上品尝过的要淡很多。

I’m a convert.

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