How to cook a Hungarian Easter ham

Easter is an important cultural and Christian tradition celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. It is also linked to the Jewish Passover by much of its symbolism, as well as by its position in the calendar. Easter Sunday and Monday are marked as public holidays in Hungary. Easter’s origin can be also traced back to pagan beliefs and practices. It’s believed that the name Easter was named after Eostre, the Teutonic Goddess of Spring.

Easter or Húsvét in Hungarian follows the 40 day long Lent, which runs from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday in commemoration of the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert. After this fasting period, which is often considered as a meat free diet, Christians are allowed to eat meat for the first time on Easter Sunday. And here’s where ham comes into play.

In Hungary the traditional rustic Easter ham is preserved by dry-salting and cold smoking, ripened for months; according to peasant traditions it was always stored for Easter in the attic. However, as an achievement of the modern era, today store-bought hams  are brined. After you have chosen your Easter ham, you have to cook it keeping some simple rules in mind. Here are some tips how to cook a smoked ham properly.

Hungarian Easter ham

Easter hamphotos: zserbo.com

  • Prepare the gammon by giving it a quick rinse. Don’t cut off the fatty parts because fat prevents the meat from drying out. Soak the ham in cold water for 2-3 hours, or if the ham is too salty and dry, soak it overnight. Soaking helps reduce the ham’s saltiness and makes the meat more tender.
  • Drain the meat and discard soaking water. Weigh the gammon to calculate the cooking time. Put the meat in a large pot, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Once the liquid reaches the boiling point, reduce the heat to the lowest setting and slowly simmer uncovered, which is the secret of a juicy and tender ham.
  • There’s no need to season the ham, but if you want, you may add black pepper corns, bay leaf, garlic or allspice to the cooking liquid. But don’t add salt.
  • Ham is usually cooked for 1 hour per kilogram (or 30 minutes per lb), but it’s better to check the tenderness with a knife or skewer periodically. If there is a bone in the ham, cook until the meat easily comes off the bone.
  • Once the ham is tender, turn off the heat and let the meat cool in the cooking liquid. Don’t drain or the ham becomes dry and hard.
  • When the ham is completely cool, remove the fat from the surface of the liquid, then take the ham out of the pot. Slice and serve with horseradish cream, sweet bread and hard boiled eggs.
  • Cooked ham shall be kept in the fridge.
  • The stock can be reserved for future use, to make bean soup or sólet. The stock frozen in small portions will keep up to 6 months.

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