Generic Homemade Ham

Where I'm from, hams are stupid expensive due to the lack of demand. This is unacceptable because I love hams![1] After years of not tasting even a single slice, I decided for myself to make some, and noting down what works and what doesn't.

Unlike other stuff you usually find on the interweb, the following recipe will not require any fancy equipment,[2] chemical[3] or quantities that (should) only appear in a math textbook. It will also try to be flexible, so that you can be free to experiment with whatever you feel like that day, while knowing for sure you'll still end up with something at least remotely resemble a piece of ham.


Making ham, like any other food, comprises of only two steps: preparing and cooking. Brining not only makes the meat salty[4] but also enhances its tenderness by braking down the proteins.

The most important ingredients for this process are meat, salt and sugar. As for the meat, it's preferably from a pig's thigh, but anything with a similar texture will do. You do want a cut with parallel muscles to minimize the amount of silver skin and tendon though, plus it will have better presentation. As always, intramuscular fat is a delicious cherry on top, but not too crucial in this case. On the other hand, any kind of salt and sugar would do. Personally I use sea salt and brown sugar because they are the cheapest to be found locally, whilst they add some extra flavors and minerals.


Dry brining is only suitable for (family-)serving-size cuts of meat, somewhere from 200 to 500 grams. Anything larger would have troubles absorbing the seasoning. Otherwise, cover the meat in coarse salt and sugar and leave it in the fridge from a few hours to overnight, depending on its mass.

How much seasoning? Be generous, but you'd want to still be able to see the meat underneath. I don't think you can't overseason it, just remember to rinse off the remaining rub before cooking. As for the ratio, I like to twice as much salt as sugar, but I've seen people doing 1:1 or even 1:2.


The brine formula I'm about to describe is heavily influenced from Mike G's recipe, which is also uncured ham. First, pour enough water to submerge the meat in a pot (no, don't put the meat in the pot) and heat it up. If you have a fairly fitting container, the amount is close to the mass of the meat itself.

Then, add 5% salt, 3% sugar, and whatever spices can go well with your future ham. I usually use a few bay leaves, some thyme and crushed peppercorn, but any aromatic, fresh or dry, should work. You don't have to be exact with the amount of seasoning either: if you don't have a scale, measure with a spoon and be generous. Due to the lack of nitrate, the brining shouldn't occur for more than a few days and the more concentrated the solution, the faster the absorption.

Let the brine cool down, pour it in a container, drown the meat[5] (use a weight if necessary) and put it in the fridge. A cut of a few hundred grams should take around 24 hours.


After taking the meat out of the fridge and wash it lightly, wait around an hour for it to reach room temperature. If you don't have paper towel, place it on a rack or an elevated plane to dry off the surface.

Before cooking, I like to rub a few other extra spices on my meat. My favorite are smoked paprika (for the smoky flavor), garlic powder, freshly grounded black pepper and perhaps some nutmeg.

From here, it's similar to cooking a steak: you'd want it in an environment close to the target temperature, which is around 68°C, or 63°C if pork in your area is heavily regulated. The closer it is, the smaller the difference between the center and the outer layers may be, i.e. you'll less likely to overcook the latter. There are three ways[6] to do this indoor: sous vide, pan-frying and oven-roasting. If you have a sous vide machine, I'd assume you wouldn't need my instructions, so I will focus on the other two methods.


First, rub a touch of cooking oil[7] all over your meat, then turn on the stove to the lowest-possible heat and place the pan and the meat on it. It should take 30 to 40 minutes to reach to desired temperature, depending on your stove. You can use your finger or a chopstick to poke on the meat: if it feels raw it's probably raw, if it's solid it's overcooked; you'd want it bouncy, right before it stops being so. Yes, it's a lot of trial and error and unnecessarily stressful, just get a thermometer, especially the one you can stick in for the entire process.

It is not compulsory to sear a ham, but I'm addicted to the Maillard reaction so Imma do it anyway. You can sear before or after cooking, I usually do the latter (reverse searing) because it seems to make more sense. Move the meat to a temporary plate and wipe the pan clean. Turn the stove up to medium-high and wait for it to get hot.

If your meat does not look like it can fit it a body building contest, coat it with little more oil, then drop it on the pan. Rotate it every 30 seconds until the whole surface area is golden brown, then transport it back to the plate for resting until you can comfortably touch it before slicing. Serve with yellow mustard.


If you have an oven, place the meat on its rack and turn it down to lowest heat (mine is 100°C). In this method, a thermometer is also compulsory to monitor the meat inner temperature, which should take around 80 minutes to raise to the target one. I suggest bisecting the checking intervals, e.g. check after 40 minutes, then 20, and so on.

If you're worried about the wasted energy, you can cut some carrots, potatoes, tomatoes and/or onions (anything high in carbs, really) in half and throw them in the oven. After taking the meat out, turn the oven up to highest and you'll have some beautifully caramelized side dishes.

The oven I have at home is not powerful enough for searing the meat (quickly) so I usually turn to the pan instead.

Slow cooking (bonus)

This is a bonus because I could never make a ham out of it, but pulled pork. On the other hand, it's so tender that you won't be able to slice and needs much less attention. Since we won't sear the meat, it's a good idea to use a binding like mustard to stick even more rubbing spices on the surface.

After rubbing, touch the bottom of the slow cooker with a bit a oil to avoid sticking, drop the bay leafs from the brine on it and place the meat on top. Cook low from six to eight hours, then using forks or chopsticks separate the muscles from each other. You can serve immediately or let it cook a bit more after pulling.

[1] Especially Jon Hamm's John Ham.
[2] Ain't nobody got at smoker at home.
[3] Where can I get nitrates? A chemistry lab?
[4] Like yours truly.
[5] Or the other way around, it's not cereal.
[6] Nice!
[7] One with smoking point above 170°C.

Tags: lyf recipe Nguyễn Gia Phong, 2021-11-19


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