Once a year, ham and eggs fling off their breakfast image and appear as the stars of the feast, raising a bunch of questions most of us face only at Easter.
Sure, anyone can boil an egg, but peeling it is another matter. Why do bits of egg white come off in those annoying chunks, turning the egg into an ugly, pitted meteor?
If the ham wrapper says "fully cooked," does it really matter how long we bake it?
And what in the heck are you going to do with 10 pounds of leftover ham and two dozen hard-cooked eggs?
Here's a primer on ham and eggs, Easter-style.
n Ham. You can buy your ham anytime now, because a fully cooked ham (the kind most supermarkets sell) can be stored in its wrapper in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Once opened, hams must be used within three to four days. Fresh (raw) hams must be used within three to five days.
Bargain hams aren't bargains if you're paying good money for water, so read the labels. If it's called simply "ham," or "ham with natural juices," you're paying for meat. If the label says, "ham _ added water" or "ham and water product," you're buying meat and water, and the price should be accordingly lower.
If you're worried about not having enough ham to go around, figure on about four to five servings per pound of boneless ham, and two to three servings for bone-in. Many people say bone-in hams have a better flavor.
Most people have the opposite problem, though _ too much ham. The leftovers can be kept in the refrigerator for three to four days. Ham doesn't freeze well, but if it's a choice between freezing and pitching, go ahead and freeze it. The thawed ham will be a bit mushy, but it will be fine for soups and casseroles or fried ham sandwiches.
To prepare a ham for baking, you must slice off the rind. Most of the rind probably will have been cut off by the packer or butcher. The rind is shiny and brown, and sits atop the fat. Using a sharp knife, slice and peel off the patches of rind, leaving a good layer of fat behind. The fat bastes the ham while cooking.
Cook a ready-to-eat ham uncovered in a shallow baking pan for 15 minutes per pound at 325 degrees, to an internal temperature of 140 degrees. Hams that weigh less than 10 pounds should be cooked for 20 minutes per pound. Cooking ready-to-eat hams improves the flavor and texture, and kills any micro-organisms that may be hanging around.
Hams labeled "cook before eating" should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees before they are safe to eat.
+ Eggs. Egg whites come off in those annoying chunks because the eggs are too fresh. As an egg ages, air enters through the shell and forms an air pocket between the two membranes that attach the white to the shell. This means that the older the egg, the easier it is to peel.
If you want hard-cooked eggs to peel easily, the eggs should be a week old, but even a few days helps.
The greenish color that sometime forms around a hard-cooked egg yolk is caused by a chemical reaction between sulfur and iron compounds in the egg. It's safe to eat, but you can avoid it by not over-cooking the eggs.
The proper way to hard-cook eggs is to place them in a pan, add water to cover by about an inch, and bring to a boil. Immediately remove the pan from the heat, cover and let stand for 15 minutes.
This not only helps prevent the eggs from cracking, but produces a tender rather than rubbery egg white.
To get egg dye to cling to the shells, use hot water and add a splash of vinegar. Egg-coloring products work fine, but regular food coloring works just as well.
Hard-boiled eggs should not be left at room temperature for longer than two hours, thanks to salmonella enteriditis, a bacteria that surfaced in the 1980s. The bacteria grows at room temperature. So if you plan to eat the eggs after they've made an appearance in an Easter basket or an egg hunt, plan accordingly.
Hard-cooked eggs will keep in the refrigerator for about a week.
DEVILED HAM AND EGGS
6 hard-cooked eggs
3/4 cup finely chopped ham
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon sweet pickle relish
2 teaspoons prepared mustard
Salt, pepper to taste
Peel eggs and cut in half lengthwise. Remove yolks and mash in a small bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients. Spoon into egg whites.
Makes 1 dozen.
SPLIT PEA AND HAM SOUP
1 pound dry split peas
8 cups water
1 ham bone
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups diced ham
2 cups chopped carrots
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup diced potato
Place split peas, water, ham bone, garlic and salt in a soup pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
Remove bone from broth and discard after trimming off any meat. Add meat trimmings and remaining ingredients to pot and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.
HAM AND PENNE PASTA
1/2 pound penne (tubular) pasta
4 tablespoons butter
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 cup ham strips (about 2 inches long, 1/4-inch wide)
One-third cup fresh-grated Parmesan
1/4 cup milk
Cook pasta in boiling water until al dente. Meanwhile, melt half the butter in a medium skillet. Saute garlic and ham over medium heat until garlic is golden and ham is heated through.
When pasta is done, drain and return to the pasta pot. Place over low heat, shaking pan to evaporate any remaining moisture. Add the garlic-ham mixture, remaining 2 tablespoons butter and Parmesan. Toss over low heat to coat the pasta evenly with butter and cheese. Add milk and continue tossing until creamy. Season with salt and pepper.
SPICY DEVILED EGGS
6 hard-cooked eggs
1/4 red bell pepper
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons plain non-fat yogurt
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon paprika
2 green onions, chopped
Fresh chives for garnish
Broil pepper on a baking sheet, skin-side up, until charred and blistered. Place in paper bag and let cool, then peel and mince.
In a bowl, combine mayonnaise, yogurt, mustard, garlic, lemon juice, cayenne, paprika, green onions, salt, pepper and diced bell pepper. Mix well.
Peel eggs and cut in half lengthwise. Remove yolks and mash well. Stir into mayonnaise mixture. Spoon into the hollows of the egg halves. Garnish with chives.
Makes 12 deviled eggs.
Source: Spring by Joanne Weir.