Kentucky Lamb Hams – Not B-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-d!

Two big, salty hams.
One big salty ham poses next to another big, salty ham. The ham on the left is pork. The ham on the right is Chef Barry.

Ham. The very word brings to mind the many variations of the savory pork product. In the vast majority of cases, when folks say “ham,” they mean pork. Recently however I was talking with my friend Valerie Samutin about her lambs on Freedom Run Farm and she told me about the history of lamb ham in Kentucky. Apparently in colonial times, lamb was the protein of choice for the settlers in Kentucky. In order to preserve their lamb for winter consumption, they would cure hind quarters just like we do with pork.

I love to fuse historical traditions with new technologies. Our commonwealth was well-known as a core market for sheep and lamb production. Remnants of that heritage can still be found in central Kentucky, where dishes such as the mutton-based Burgoo remain very popular. I decided to use Freedom Run Farm’s wonderful lamb to test the hot smoking abilities of our new smoker box in a CVap holding cabinet. CVap Hot Smoked Lamb Ham!

lamb ham collage

Ingredients

  • 50g Prague powder (cure) No. 2
  • 80g KY Spice Berries (substitute fresh ground peppercorns if spice berries aren’t available)
  • 500g light brown sugar or turbinado sugar
  • 700g pure sea salt (iodine free)
  • 4-6kg fresh lamb leg, bone in and hoof on
  • Sugna:1kg olive oil mixed with flour to make a thick paste ***optional
  • (You need 80g cure for each 1kg of lamb leg) Approximately 300- 500 grams of cure per leg

Procedure

    1. Very Important! Weigh lamb leg and record weight! Record day and time of curing start as well and keep for your records!
    2. Make curing mixture with the first four ingredients above. Mix thoroughly.
    3. Rinse lamb leg thoroughly and pat dry with a paper towel. Then rub the lamb with the cure. Don’t worry about using too much. Rub firmly, pushing the leg bone with your thumbs. There is a main artery there that may not have been thoroughly bled. This process will help work out any remain blood. Once this is complete make sure you rub more cure around the aitch (hip) bone. This is the exposed bone/joint where the leg was severed from the lamb’s torso (VERY important step.)

raw legs and hams
raw hams
washed ham

    1. Place leg of lamb on a bed of salt in a nonreactive container, preferably plastic, or old school on a wooden rack. In this case I used nonreactive plastic seeding trays. Place lamb in a refrigerated environment for a minimum of ten days. Turn daily and make sure that cure is redistributed daily. If necessary add more cure. General rule of thumb for curing is one day per kilogram, but no less than ten days.

Salted hams
Fit to be tied
first salt
closeup salty
salty in cvap

    1. After the curing period is complete, rinse lamb and place in refrigerator for 24 hours. This allows for good pellicle formation. Pellicle is a skin or coating of proteins on the surface of meats that allows for smoke to adhere during the smoking process.
    2. After the 24 hour refrigeration, place lamb hams in a CVap holding cabinet at 165°F food temp and +5 on food texture. Place hickory chunks in Winston smoker box and set timer for three hours. Once cabinet is preheated, place lamb into CVap and hot smoke until internal temperature reaches 155°F. This takes approximately three hours. [Note: Although CVap equipment doesn’t usually require vent hoods, the addition of a smoker box will usually require utilization of a vent hood. Always check local codes.)
    3. After lamb reaches 155°F, remove from CVap cabinet, weigh, and record weight. At this time, some folks like to add a Sugna (a mixture of fat and flour) on the cut surface of the ham. This is classically done with prosciutto, iberico, or Appalachian mountain hams to keep the cut surface from excessively drying. In this case, I don’t believe that it is necessary, as lamb takes less time to cure and reach maturity than a traditional leg of pork. Keep in a refrigerated environment until the lamb leg has lost 25-30 % of its original weight. Once this weight loss has been achieved, your lamb ham should be ready.

strung up smoked hams

  1. Lamb preserved this way should be shelf stable for up to six months. There is no need to age longer, because hot smoking kills the enzymes that would generate any further flavor complexities. Once the ham has been cut, wrap cut surface with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Another option is to bone the ham and vacuum seal individual piece that can be cut later.

smoked ham lambs
ham in hand
Bob Perry carving lamb ham.

In this case we sampled to a lot of chef friends, and also shared with Bob Perry at his 3rd annual Kentucky Neurogastronomy Symposium held at the University of Kentucky.

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