Salty. Chewy. Intensely flavorful.
The smell of cooking ham tantalized us for hours this morning. The real thing lived up to that promise. Complex and satisfying, it anchored a New Year's feast that we hope sets the tone for 2009: Good friends, good food, good times.
We ate around 3, not too far off the original plan. The ham baked for about 90 minutes, with occasional bastings of a Madeira butter sauce. The cookbook advised watching out for burning, as the sugar in Madeira can scorch quickly. Sure enough, about 20 minutes before the scheduled end of baking, it started smoking. We pulled the ham out and let it rest a half-hour before carving.
In the meantime, we finished preparing the rest of the meal and set up a buffet line: The late Bill Neal's recipe for Hoppin' John, from "Craig Claiborne's Southern Cooking" (University of Georgia Press, $29.95), served with chopped tomato, green onions and shredded sharp Cheddar cheese on the side; collard greens prepared in the new pressure cooker, with a cider vinegar and raw onion dressing and a bottle of Tabasco sauce; cornbread baked by Mary and Mary Beth; long-grain white rice; and salad.
Like any true country ham, this one was salty, and even after days of soaking and a full morning of simmering, it kept that trademark flavor. A pinch of the crust, with the caramelized Madeira, hit the salty-sweet spot dead-on.
We've got 9.5 pounds of ham left. Good eats for months to come. May the rest of the year turn out so well.