John Ross Column: Easter starts with the perfect ham

Twice-smoked bourbon-glazed ham is the centerpiece of a traditional Easter dinner. (Credit: John Ross)

Twice-smoked bourbon-glazed ham is the centerpiece of a traditional Easter dinner. (Credit: John Ross)

The pig has lived only to eat, he eats only to die. … He eats everything his gluttonous snout touches, he will be eaten completely. … He eats all the time, he will be eaten all the time. … His ignoble gluttony is echoed in terrible fashion. … The pig is nothing but an immense dish which walks while waiting to be served. …

In a sort of photography of his future destiny, everything announces that he will be eaten, but eaten in such a fashion that there will remain of him not the smallest bone, not a hair, not an atom.

Charles Monselet

French writer and gastronome, 1825-1888

The pig was domesticated from the wild boar as early as 13,000 B.C. in Mesopotamia. In neolithic China, remains were found showing that the small breed of pig peculiar to China lived inside people’s huts. It was small, fed on scraps at no cost to the owner, matured in one year, and produced two litters annually. Gradually, this amazing source of protein spread around the world and is now part of almost every nation’s cuisine.

The pig was brought to North America by Spanish explorers in the 16th century and has remained our most widely consumed domestic animal next to beef. From the pig we produce fresh pork, bacon, spare ribs, sausage, pork butts and lots of ham (not to mention the use of the head and all of the innards). But it was the salting and curing of pork, and later the ham, that has made this meat world-famous. Salted pork and beef were the primary source of protein for sailors during the centuries before refrigeration and we developed a taste for this pink, flavorful meat even after this kind of preservation was not necessary.

The tradition of ham being served at Easter originated in northern Europe, where the more traditional lamb was scarce and the cured ham was plentiful and just coming into its season after aging over the winter.

Dry salted ham is aged for up to one year in controlled environments and produces the famous hams of the world: Italian prosciutto di Parma, Spanish Serrano, French Bayonne and Virginia country ham. Today, the inexpensive smoked ham we find in the supermarket is smoked and cured with a brine solution and needs very little aging.

Here is an Easter ham recipe along with a first course and dessert that would make a nice Easter dinner:

Smoked Bourbon-Glazed Ham

Purchase a bone-in, fully cooked smoked ham, preferably the shank end. It will weigh about 9 pounds and serve 6 to 8 people.

Prepare your outdoor charcoal grill for indirect cooking and light the charcoal, letting it develop white coals. Meanwhile, soak about 4 cups of hickory wood chips in water.

Prepare the ham by cutting off the rind and removing some of the outer fat cover. Using the tip of your knife, score the ham in a diamond pattern, cutting about 1/4 inch deep. Place whole cloves in the center of each diamond, about a dozen in all.

Make a glaze by combining 1 1/2 cups brown sugar, 1/2 cup mustard, 3/4 cup Coke or Pepsi and 3/4 cup bourbon.

Place the ham in a shallow casserole and brush it with some of the glaze.

Drain the hickory chips and put them on top of the hot coals. Place the ham (in the casserole) in the indirect part of the grill, put the lid on and cook at as close to 250 degrees as possible for about 3 hours. Baste the ham with the bourbon mixture every 30 minutes. Remove when the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.

Let the ham cool for 20 minutes and carve it into thin slices against the bone. Serve with sweet potatoes, asparagus and the drippings in the casserole.

Marinated Shrimp and Scallops (an Easter first course)

Purchase 1 pound of medium shrimp and 1 pound of bay scallops.

Bring 2 quarts water to a boil and cook the shrimp in their shells until they turn pink, about 3 minutes. Drain, run under cold water, peel and de-vein.

Combine 1 cup diced celery, 1 bunch of scallions, sliced thin, and 1 diced avocado. Add the zest and juice of 1 lemon and 1 tablespoon cider vinegar. Stir in 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/2 cup chili sauce, 1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard and 2 tablespoons horseradish. Season with 2 teaspoons kosher salt and 1 teaspoon ground pepper.

Pour this marinade over the shrimp and raw scallops in a bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight. Stir the mixture 2 or 3 times.

At service time, line salad plates with Boston lettuce and spoon the shrimp and scallops over the lettuce. Garnish with chopped parsley and lemon.

Serves 6-8.

Toasted Almond Amaretto Italian Cheesecake. (Credit: John Ross)

Toasted Almond Amaretto Italian Cheesecake. (Credit: John Ross)

Toasted Almond Amaretto

Italian Cheesecake (an Easter dessert)

Set the oven temperature at 350 degrees.

Place about 40 vanilla wafers into the food processor and process until they are coarse crumbs.

Toast 1 cup sliced almonds by placing them on a sheet pan and cooking them in the oven for 5 minutes. Process them and add to the wafer crumbs in a large bowl. Stir in 1/3 cup sugar, 6 tablespoons melted butter and 2 tablespoons amaretto liqueur.

Stir this mixture together with a dinner fork and press it into a 9- or 10-inch spring-form pan, pressing it up the sides about 1 inch.

Add a 16-ounce container of ricotta cheese to a mixing bowl and, using the paddle, beat until smooth. Continue beating and add 6 large eggs, one at a time. Add 1 cup sugar, 1/2 teaspoon almond extract, 2 tablespoons amaretto, 1 tablespoon flour, 1/2 cup heavy cream and 1 cup sour cream. Blend well and pour into the spring-form pan using a rubber spatula to clean the bowl.

Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 15 minutes and remove from the oven.

Combine 2 cups sour cream with 1/4 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon almond extract. Spread this topping on the cheesecake and return to the oven for another 10 minutes. Shut off the oven and leave the door closed for 1 hour. Remove the cheesecake and garnish the top with 1 cup toasted sliced almonds.

Chill at least 4 hours before serving.

Serves 6-8.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: johncross@optonline.net.