Phone

Foods

Pork, cured
Why Eat It
Varieties
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

Because so many cured pork products are high in fat and sodium (a serving of cured ham, for example, can contain more than one-third of the maximum recommended daily intake of sodium). Fortunately, there has been a trend toward reduced-sodium products.

Varieties

Bacon: Pork belly, which comes from the side of the hog, is called bacon once it has been cured and smoked. A solution of brine and water is injected into the pork belly; a smoked flavor may also be injected, or the bacon may be smoked after it is cured. Bacon is very high in fat, saturated fat, and sodium.

Pancetta: For this Italian-style bacon, the whole pork belly is rolled into a sausage shape and then sliced into bacon strips.

Canadian bacon: A leaner alternative to regular bacon, Canadian bacon is smoked and cured pork loin. (In Canada and Great Britain, it is called back bacon.) It's used in much the same way as bacon, though it resembles ham in appearance and taste. Three and a half ounces of this meat will supply 185 calories, 41% of them coming from fat.

Ham: Ham is pork leg that has been cured and sometimes smoked. There are many types of ham on the market. Many hams are brine (or wet) cured, whereby the pork leg is injected with a solution of water, salt, sodium nitrite, and sugar. Some hams are dry cured; the meat is rubbed with salt, sugar, sodium nitrate, sodium nitrite, and seasonings. These may also be called country hams. The dry curing process draws out moisture and intensifies the color and flavor of the meat.

Most hams are sold "fully cooked," that is, they have been cooked to a high enough internal temperature to make them safe to eat. Fresh hams, those that require cooking will be marked as such on the label.

The types of ham on the market include bone-in hams, which contain the shank bone and are available whole or in sections; semi-boneless hams, which have had the shank bone removed, leaving the round leg bone; boneless hams, which have been rolled or molded and packed in a casing; and canned hams, brine-cured ham pieces that have been molded, vacuum sealed, and fully cooked. Picnic ham is not a true ham but comes from the shoulder, not the leg.

Ham is further divided by the percentage of protein it contains by weight. Because the curing solution can add greatly to the weight of the ham, the USDA has categorized ham in the following way: Products labeled "ham" have no added water and are at least 20.5% protein. "Ham with natural juices" is at least 18.5% protein. "Ham--added water" is at least 17% protein. "Ham and water product" can contain any amount of water, but must state the percentage of added ingredients on the label.

You will also find some hams labeled lean or extra lean. Lean hams must contain no more than 10% fat by weight; extra lean hams, no more than 5% fat by weight.

Shopping

When choosing cured pork products, be sure to read the label. It will tell you what type of product it is; also the label gives you important information about how to store and cook it.

Storage

Cured pork products keep much longer than fresh pork. Vacuum-packed bacon is often marked with a "sell-by" date; the unopened bacon will keep until a week after this date. Once opened, it will keep for about a week if tightly wrapped. Slab bacon--often available from a deli counter--will keep for several weeks if tightly wrapped and refrigerated. Canadian bacon will keep for three to four days if sliced, up to a week if in large pieces.

Cured hams keep for about a week in the refrigerator. If the ham is vacuum-packed or sealed in plastic, leave it in its wrapping. If not, rewrap it tightly in aluminum foil. Canned hams should be refrigerated; they will keep for up to six months if unopened. Once opened, tightly wrap the leftovers and use within a week. Some canned hams do not need refrigeration, but be sure to check the label. If in doubt, refrigerate. Dry-cured hams should be refrigerated; they'll keep for six months.

Preparation

Cured hams that are not marked "fully cooked" must be treated like fresh pork; cook them to an internal temperature of 160°F. Even hams that are marked fully cooked may benefit from cooking to 140°F to improve flavor. The surface of country-style hams may be coated with a mold that is a normal part of the curing process. These hams must be scrubbed with a stiff-bristled brush to remove the mold and excess salt on the surface. The ham must then be soaked for several hours, changing the water several times and then simmered before baking. Most country-style hams come with detailed directions for preparation.

Fresh hams may be rubbed with a dry herb and spice mixture and roasted or soaked in a brine solution and then either braised or roasted.

Nutrition Chart

Extra-Lean Cured Ham/3 ounces

123
Total fat (g)
4.7
Saturated fat (g)
1.5
Monounsaturated fat (g)
2.2
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.5
Dietary fiber (g)
0
18
Carbohydrate (g)
1
Cholesterol (mg)
45
Sodium (mg)
1023
Thiamin (mg)
0.6
Niacin (mg)
3.4
Vitamin B6 (mg)
0.3
Selenium (mcg)
17
Zinc (mg)
2.5

Bacon/1 slice cooked

37
Total fat (g)
3.1
Saturated fat (g)
1.1
Monounsaturated fat (g)
1.5
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.4
Dietary fiber (g)
0
2
Carbohydrate (g)
0
Cholesterol (mg)
5
Sodium (mg)
101


Date Published: 04/20/2005
Previous  |  Next
> Printer-friendly Version Return to Top