Ham Ends. But Not the End of Ham.

I don’t remember quite how old I was, or how the story came up, but I remember my mother telling me the story about the end of the ham. You probably know the one.

When your grandmother was young and first married, she was chatting with your grandfather while making a ham. As she went to put the ham in the pan, she cut the end off. Your grandfather asked her why she did that, and she responded with, “I don’t know. My mother always used to do it.”

Later that day, she spoke to her mother and asked about cutting the end off the ham. Her mother replied, “You know, I don’t know. That’s how my mother always did it.” So your grandmother eventually asked her grandmother. You know what her grandmother said?

“That’s the only way it would fit in the pan.”

Well, Snopes tells me that my grandmother probably didn’t actually have this experience. And, heck, maybe I am remembering wrong and my mother just told it as a joke, not as a story about her mother. In any case, it’s a nice yarn with a good message about stopping and thinking about why we’re doing something before we do it. And, frankly, it’s a cute story, which is probably why it keeps being repeated1.

I thought of this story recently. Not because of the lesson in the legend, but because of the content of the legend. The end of the ham. The part that I got for extremely cheap (relatively speaking) at Publican Quality meats (PQM) recently.

What I got isn’t “ham” in the American sense of the word, I think. It is from the rear leg of the pig, and it is cured. But it’s cured rather differently, and frankly I can’t tell exactly how. When I asked at PQM if I was buying the kind of ham that worked well for beans, the answer was an emphatic no, and a suggestion for “sauces”.

Okay. I can work with “sauces”. I divided the pound of ham ends I bought into four 4 oz portions and stuck the baggies in the freezer while I figured it out. Eventually, I settled on making Mark Bittman’s Bolognese sauce for lasagne in my first go ‘round. This recipe calls for bacon or pancetta, and while this was neither, it was close enough. I chopped it fairly finely and went from there.

Flavor-wise, the substitution worked out excellently. I’m not sure there was quite enough fat to render properly, but since I tend to use ground meat of unknown percentage of fat, I always seem to be okay there. (Basically, Bittman calls for “lean” ground meat, and while I am not guaranteed to NOT have “lean”, I’m always pretty confident I do not.) Bill really enjoyed our lasagne, and was thrilled with the ham ends substitution, since the flavor was the same.

Texture-wise, the chopped ham end was a little weird, I have to be honest. Not terrible, though. A little chewier than expected, mostly. In fact, I’m not totally sure the texture was truly odd or if it was psychosomatic on my part. Bill had no complaints of odd texture, and I pretty much only noticed odd texture after I was sure I was about to eat a bit of ham. Which, to be clear, was pretty easy to visually determine. The ground meat chunks looked like ground meat, the chopped ham looked like chopped ham and became a bit pink.

Thus, I cautiously am in favor of continuing to use this kind of ham ends in applications like this. I’m working on a guess that these are the unsliceable ends of a ham cured “prosciutto style”. I don’t have a better explanation of what they seemed like, other than to say they were nothing like what I think of as “American Ham.”I believe my ham ends came from the meaty bits between the knee and where the ham in the photo below has been sliced open and from a similar style ham.

Ham of GuijueloSo, why the substitution? Much like the bacon ends, it’s all about expense. These ham ends were less than half the price of the cheapest bacon we buy, and a third of the price of the more expensive bacon. They’re a quarter of the price of pancetta anywhere I can get it. Thus, so long as the texture doesn’t weird me out the next three times I cook with ham ends (the other portions), I think it will be well worth continuing to buy them.

fn1. Snopes says this is a story that’s “often told within the Jewish religion” to help explain the reasons behind the ritual. If so, that’s undoubtedly a big part of why the story has legs.

4 thoughts on “Ham Ends. But Not the End of Ham.

  1. Where ham ends, prosciutto begins?

    Once again I’m impressed by your ability to take on unconventional types of food and have a go at them, managing to make something tasty. I wonder what else they could have meant by “sauces”. How come you didn’t ask about the curing method while you were talking to the meat folks? Was the meat salty? Smoky? Did you sample a chunk of it before moving onto the bolognese? Do you think it would work chopped up and fried and dumped into a quiche?

    • Thanks for the compliment!

      The meat was somewhat salty, but not at all smokey. I didn’t sample a chunk before it went into the sauce, but I clearly should have! It would make an awesome quiche ingredient.

      I did ask about the curing method while I was there. I just forgot

  2. The ham story was ( I think) something I read in Reader’s Digest. I’m fairly certain we were talking about family traditions and thinking for yourself.

    • Huh. Were we in the dining room of your current house when we had this conversation? Because that’s what I remember.

      Anyway, your memory makes more sense than mine, but this is definitely what I remember. I love(hate) the fallibility of memory.

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