Easter Ham & Potatoes Gratiné

Easter dinner is one of those Gotta Cook a Ham Days, if ever there was one.  

Technically, ham refers to a back leg or shoulder cut of pork, which is then salt-cured, smoked or dry aged. Hams are found both bone-in and boneless. It may be a bit harder to find bone-in hams from any of the big national butchers, and frankly, that’s just fine with me; like everything else, the closer to you the ham is produced, the fresher and better it is. We have a couple local butchers that do beautiful bone in hams; that’s what we opt for and what I’ll recommend to you: That beautiful bone just has more flavor, for my mind, and that big juicy bone will make fantastic stock for soup. When choosing your ham, figure about a quarter pound per person for a boneless jam and a half pound for a bone in.

 Now, that said, there are a bunch more variations on the ham theme out there, so us cooks have to pay attention to what we buy in order to provide optimal cooking, because techniques vary widely. Fresh hams take longer to cook than canned ones, cold-smoked hams are typically simmered, not baked. 

The BIG ham FYI is that most store-bought hams come fully cooked and only need to be heated through to 140° F internal temperature. 

With all that variety, it’s best to carefully follow the instructions from your butcher, (or on the package), for preparation and cooking methods and times. After cooking, rest hams for 10 minutes before carving.

Now for any of those varieties up there, here’s our take on the famous glaze that so many go nuts for, the Honey Glazed Ham; whip this up for your brood without the big price tag. This recipe will be just right for a 5 to 6 pound pre-cooked ham.

2 Cups Honey or Agave Nectar

3/4 Cup Unsalted Butter

1/4 Cup Dark Corn Syrup

1/4 Cup whole Cloves

Juice of 1/2 fresh Orange

Pinch of Sea Salt

Preheat oven to 300° F.

With a very sharp paring knife, score a diamond pattern into the ham roughly 1/4″ deep; make the diamonds about 1 1/2″ or so.

Put the ham into a foil lined baking pan; pin a whole clove into the center of each diamond. 

In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, add the honey, corn syrup, butter and orange juice. Stir constantly to fully incorporate. Once the glaze is blended and heated through, add a tiny pinch of sea salt to taste; the salt should just brighten up the flavor a bit, not make it salty. Reduce heat to warm and stir occasionally.

Brush glaze evenly over ham, set ham onto rack in middle of your oven and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, re-basting ham every 15 minutes. 

For the last 5 minutes of baking, turn on broiler to caramelize the glaze; watch carefully during this phase so the glaze doesn’t burn!

Remove ham from oven and rest for 10 minutes before carving.

 

Scalloped Potatoes

House made scalloped potatoes not only beat the pants off anything store bought or in a package, they’re easy to make, too. Don’t just save these babies for ham; they go great with chicken or beef as well, and dressed up with bacon, sour cream and green onions, make a decent main dish. 

‘Scalloped’ Potatoes is a bit of a misnomer, actually. Scallop derives from ‘escalloped’, from the French, meaning  to bake food, usually cut into pieces, in a sauce or other liquid, often with crumbs on top. Technically, that dish refers to fish, and sort of got adopted informally for spuds as well; gratiné is actually the more accurate title for this recipe, frankly.

A few general thoughts on making perfect Spuds Gratiné. Potato variety is critical to great spuds, and Yukon Gold is the go-to for these. Next comes the prep, and slicing them thinly and uniformly is the key there; about 1/8″ will do the trick. For the sauce, 50% – 50% heavy cream and whole milk will give you the perfect balance of texture and creaminess; while you can use lighter dairy, doing so will not yield great results, frankly. Also, avoid ultra-pasteurized dairy

Potatoes Gratiné

6 – 8 Yukon Gold Potatoes

1 1/2 Cups Heavy Cream

1 1/2 Cups Whole Milk

1 Cup Extra Sharp White Cheddar

2 Tablespoons Whole Wheat Pastry Flour

2 Tablespoons unsalted Butter

1/2 teaspoon Marjoram

1-3 cloves Garlic

1-2 shots Tabasco sauce. 

Sea Salt 

Freshly ground Grains of Paradise (Black pepper is fine too)

Preheat oven to 375° F

Lightly oil a 3 quart baking dish.

Cut potatoes evenly into 1/8″ slices. You can peel them if you need to, but best to leave them on for the nutrition. Submerge in ice cold water until ready to incorporate.

Smash garlic cloves under the side of a chefs knife, peel and mince.

Grate cheddar.

In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter thoroughly. Add the flour, stir into the butter to form a roux. Gradually add the milk, stirring constantly. Add the cream next, slowly and evenly. Add the garlic, marjoram, 2-1/2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon grains of paradise, stirring steadily. When everything is fully incorporated and heated through, remove from heat and set aside.

Drain the potatoes and pat dry with a paper towel. Arrange a slightly overlapping single layer of potatoes in the baking dish, then ladle a generous layer the cream sauce the potatoes. Repeat with the remaining potatoes and cream mixture. Three to four layers of potatoes and sauce is just about right; make sure you end up with a sauce layer. 

Spread the last of the cheese evenly over the top of the dish.

Bake until the potatoes are fork tender, about 45 to 50 minutes.

Let the potatoes rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

 

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