Traditional Ham Gets A Southern Makeover

Cooking it fresh brings out a bevy of new flavors.

With the holiday season upon us, it’s all about entertaining with delicious, impressive dishes. We’ve partnered with Vivian Howard of A Chef’s Life to bring you recipes, ideas, and tips inspired by Southern cooking traditions.

For some reason, fresh ham is a foreign notion in the US. We love honey-laced spiral cut hams, cured country hams and city ham that’s sliced thin for sandwiches. But the idea of taking a fresh ham, or the thigh of a pig that hasn’t been cured, and just putting it in the oven is something we have a really hard time wrapping our minds around. I’m urging you to give it a try. 

What makes a fresh ham swoon-worthy is the skin, so if you can’t find one with the skin attached, don’t bother. If you do find one wrapped in skin, the trick is to roast it so slow that the layer of fat below the skin renders and bastes the lean meat beneath. The end result will be a moist roast crowned by unbelievably crispy skin.

The knee-jerk thing to do is make a gravy with the ham’s drippings. But, I like to balance rich things with tart things, so rather than pouring creamy gravy over crispy fat, I’ve chosen a warm, sweet and tart vinaigrette to liven things up. 



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Fresh Ham with Cracklin’ Skin and Warm Maple Vinaigrette

“The end result [is] a moist roast crowned by unbelievably crispy skin.” —Vivian Howard 

Servings: 10




4 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup minced red onion

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated on a microplane

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1 cup cider vinegar

2/3 cup maple syrup

1/2 cup honey



1 fresh bone-in ham, skin attached, about 15 pounds

1/4 cup kosher salt

3 tablespoons ground black pepper


For the vinaigrette: In a small saucepan, melt butter. Add red onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook until onions are soft and translucent. Throw in the ginger, nutmeg, and vinegar. Bring it up to a boil and add the syrup and honey. Reduce by half. Serve immediately or store it in the fridge for up to a week and heat before serving.

For the ham: An hour before you’re ready to roast your ham, bring it out of the fridge to come to room temperature. Position the rack in the lower third of your oven and preheat it to 300°F. Using a box cutter or a very sharp knife, cut slits in the ham’s skin from left to right, from the wide end of the ham to the knuckle end. The slits should be about an inch apart and roughly 1/2 inch deep into its fat. Rub the ham with the remaining 1/4 cup salt and 3 tablespoons black pepper, taking care to get down into the slits. Place the ham, skin side up, on a roasting pan and slide into your oven. Roast uncovered for roughly 5 hours, or until an instant read thermometer or the probe on your oven reads 165°F.

Remove the ham from oven and let it rest for 15 minutes before carving. The skin should be crispy and irresistible. Serve slices of ham and skin drizzled with maple vinaigrette. 

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