The leg primal cut is where the hams come from. The entire leg is IMPS Item No. 401, and can be broken down into further processing into the inside, outside, and the leg tip (the pocket roast). The pork leg meat is lean and richly flavored. While cured ham is most commonly processed from this cut, fresh roasts and smaller cuts are also taken from the leg.
Pork at the top of the leg is called the butt portion (the butt end of the cut), or the leg “sirloin” roast as it is close to the sirloin. This is also called the Pork Leg, Sirloin On. The bottom part of the leg is called the shank portion as it contains the shank, the portion below the knee. The shank can be Frenched, “pork drumstick roast”, where it is trimmed of meat and fat and the shank bone is partially exposed. The bottom part of the leg is preferred for carving since there is less bones to cut around.
Fresh Ham – Pork Leg Roasts and Steaks
Fresh ham is the uncured fresh pork leg, cut into roasts or steaks as bone-in or boneless. Since it is not cured, fresh ham will taste like roasted pork or pork chops, rather than the typical smoky flavor of a cured ham. The Steamship Leg of Pork is a large roast from the upper leg, and is typically slow baked and sliced to serve large parties or buffets. The smaller steaks from the leg area are tougher than other smaller pork cuts (like the loin chops) but turn out great after a bit of marinating to tenderize them.
Dry Cured Vs. Wet Cured Ham (Country and City Hams)
Dry curing ham involves applying salt and other ingredients (curing salts, seasonings, spices, sweeteners, etc.) to the meat and curing for a period of time. Ingredients are used in combination to kill bacterial growth and to preserve the meat. Country hams are dry cured hams that are salt-cured and sometimes smoked. Mold may develop on the outside of a country ham which is normal during the aging process; just remove before cooking and serving the meat.
A Virginia ham is a country ham that is made in Virginia. A Smithfield ham is a ham made specifically in Smithfield, Virginia.
Wet cured ham is submerged in brine for a period of time or mechanically injected with the curing solution. Brining whole takes more time while the injection process can be done in just a few days. Wet cured ham is also called a city ham.
Image of ham courtesy pexels.