SUPERMARKET HAM: WHAT TO BUY
A ham comes from hind leg of a pig. Hams are usually sold as half a leg; the butt end is closer to hip and the shank end is closer to the hoof.
When you peruse the hams displayed at your local supermarket, you will notice that most have water added. Natural juices, with only 7% to 8% water added, are preferred. Hams that have 12% to 15% water added will be spongier, and if the ham contains more than 15% water, forget it. You also may see water added to something called pressed ham, which, by most accounts, is inedible. Hams come boneless, semi boneless, or bone in. The latter is preferred because it tastes better. (Note that the recipes that follow call for various kinds of ham, but you can substitute whatever type you prefer or whatever happens to be available at the time. My personal preference is a bone in shank end ham because the shank end is easier to carve and makes a trim presentation. If you choose a ham of a different weight or type, you may have to adjust the roasting time.)
All hams are precooked, so all you’re doing is heating it up without drying it out. Most recipes instruct you to remove the packaging and, if skin is still attached, remove it leaving a thin layer of fat over the meat. You may or may not be asked to score the fat in a diamond pattern and stud it with cloves. Roasting will likely be in a 325* to 350* oven, and you may be told initially to cover the ham with parchment and foil. Spiral sliced hams, which have already been sliced before baking, present special challenge to heat without removing all moisture. Instructions for cooking a spiral sliced ham are in a separate recipe here.
The glaze, if one is called for, will be mixed during the initial baking, the covering will be removed, the glaze painted on and the ham returned to the oven, uncovered, for the final period. Pay attention during the final baking because glazes that contain brown sugar, honey, jam or other sweet ingredients may burn easily. It your glaze starts looking darker than you’d like, cover the dark areas with a strip of aluminum foil to prevent the formation of further charcoal. Let the ham rest briefly before slicing and serving.