In the third and final 2013 installment of alterna-hams, we have a lamb ham – let us call it a hamb. The process was identical to the venison and goat hams, so instead of putting you through a rehash, we will stick with the highlights.
The cure here was ultra simple – salt, sugar, white wine and a few chili flakes. For some reason, this hamb came out with better texture than the goat or venison. The increased fattiness and/or size may be responsible, or it may just be a matter of individual legs take different times to dry. Despite this leg hanging for a month longer than the goat and venison hams, it still had a little give to the touch and sliced well, even without a ham slicer (ahem, Father’s Day hint – if you didn’t order it awhile ago it is too late, so anniversary or Labor Day are still in play).
The flavor is more hammy than the other two. The gaminess of the lamb pales in comparison to venison and the goat, so the salt and smoke come through a little more clearly. Still lamb with the characteristic lambiness, but it is not something that hits you across your brow. The texture is far better as mentioned above. If only I had a slicer or a automated meat slicer to get fantastically thin and deep red slices, but alas a Wustoff sharpened in December will have to do.
Instead of rehashing the process, I thought it would be valuable to relay some lessons I learned.
1.) Pork legs are huge and far easier to work with. With that kind of size, you have some flexibility in time. It could take 10 months or 14 months and in all likelihood, any time in the middle will give you a great product with only slight variances. Legs will less size and less fat have far less variance. I will try any and all of these again, but only in my own garage.
2.) Time doesn’t matter as much as feel. These are individual hams. They need care and attention. Feel them. Squeeze them. Let them tell you when they are done. The goat and venison hams, while still delicious, were dried too long. Having a narrow window and having the hams in Funky Town caused some operator error that will be easily fixed by having my own garage.
3.) Different cures are fun, but ultimately do not lead the charge. I thought mole-curing a ham would be revolutionary. It was good, but subtle. The goat was more revolutionary than the mole which was only revolutionary in a microcosmic way. Concentrate on the smoke and quality of product. Those will influence flavor far more than any cuteness with the cure.
4.) 3 hams, no matter the size or species is a lot of ham. As I did while sampling the Country Hams, I’d suggest getting a bunch of friends involved. I have gifted some of my hams and will do so more. I’d rather have a third of each for cost and calorie reasons.
5.) It is really exciting to try these hams. It is even better to learn these lessons. Only slightly better than that is getting some good feedback on the hams themselves.
6.) The funk is missing. Not sure if the deep, funky flavors of country ham develop later in the drying process, but these hams were deep, rich, and flavorful, but lacked funk. Not Osmonds lack of funk, but maybe Sunny Day Real Estate lack of funk. One note that isn’t likely helpful for the squeamish. I was expecting and hoping for a little white mold here. There was none. These came out of their pillowcases clean as a whistle. That may be a root cause of the minimized funk.
7.) A ham is not a ham is not a ham. These hams (and hambs) are hams because of their anatomical location, but as alluded to above, they are their own beast. I have tried using these alterna-hams in place of country ham to mixed results. They are delicious, but just as you would not substitute a venison loin in a dish for pork loin, you can’t expect to substitute a venison ham in the place of country ham.
2 lbs. kosher salt
8 oz. sugar
1 tablespoon cure #2
1/2 cup white wine
Step one: Combine cure ingredients and, in a vacuum bag or a hotel pan or a giant tub, rub all over lamb leg and let cure for 3-4 weeks.
Step two: Rinse the cure from the leg, dry the leg and cold smoke the leg for 72 hours.
Step three: Place the smoked and cured leg in a clean, unused, organic, Star Wars (just seeing if you are still reading) pillowcase and hang for 6 months.
If you’ve read this far: The verdict is that L liked the venison ham the best, but I prefer the hamb. I love gaminess, but the texture of the venison ham which tended to bresaola was a little dry for me. The goat ham, which ranked 2nd for me is an easy cure and I’d take the lead of Underground Kitchen and bone the goat leg and compress it during the cure. The hard part there is the meat/bone ratio was pretty light.