Monday, August 9, 2010

Ham in Beer and Molasses

Ham in Beer and Molasses

Seeing as I burnt my last chunk of meat, I decided to share one of my all time great recipes.  I have never known anyone, except vegetarians, to dislike this one.  It is cooked in beer, so there is NO WAY that I can dry this one out!

Chicago and beer go hand in hand.  Prior to 1833, when Chicago had approximately 200 settlers, they already had a choice of two taverns to serve them alcoholic drink.  Both of those taverns made ther own ales to supplement spotty supply routes from the East Coast.  From that humble start, by the late 1800s, Chicago had become the second largest center of the malt liquor (beer) industry outside of New York.  The nineteenth century saw the transformation of beer making as a seasonal, small scale activity for local ethnic consumers into a large mechanized industry that impacted the culture, science and technology of Chicago. 

In 1833, German immigrants founded the first brewery in Chicago.  One of them was Conrad Sulzer, after whom the Sulzer Library on the North Side is named.  The other, Michael Haas.  Together, they had brought enough supplies with them to make 600 barrels of beer in their first year of production.  William Lill, an English immigrant who is storied to have walked from Louisville, Ky. to Chicago, bought a significant share of Sulzer's brewery after arriving.  Michael Diversey, a milk man, shared the ice from the Haas -Sulzer brewery to keep his milk cold.  Eventually, Sulzer and Haas got out of the brewing business and Lill and Diversey got together.  They formed the Lill and Diversey Brewery, which was more often referred to simply as the Chicago Brewery.  By the time the Chicago Water Tower was built, the Lill and Diversey Brewery across the street was four stories tall, took up two acres of land and employed seventy five men.  Michael Diversey died in 1869, and Lill kept the business going.  Unfortunately, the Great Chicago Fire in 1871 destroyed the brewery, leaving the Water Tower on the other side of the street standing.  Lill lost $500,000 and died four years later, never reopening the brewery. 

By 1847, the German brewers started making traditional lagers.  The huge influx of German and Irish immigrants in the ensuing years preferred this lighter, more carbonated beer and the demand grew rapidly.  By the 1890s, the Germans dominated the brewing industry and paved the way for the city to become a leader in the "scientific brewing" movement which followed on the heels of Louis Pasteur's discovery that microorganisms were what caused so much of the beer to go bad.  The Siebel Institue of Technology was founded and Chicago had cemented its position as a leading city in the beer industry.   By 1900, Chicago's sixty breweries were producing 100 million gallons of beer a year.  Incidently, my best friend Dieter went to the Siebel Institue when he became a brewer a couple of years back.

Not too long after Chicago had grown into a premier beer city, the half century old temperance movement  led to Prohibition.  The temperance movement was not only fueled by the desire to wipe out alcohol, but also a healthy fear of immigrant workers, the rising militancy of the labor movement, and the role of local pubs as centers for social organization.  After Prohibition was repealed, Chicago did not recover its former stature and steadily lost out to newer companies that produced on a national scale using cans.  It wasn't until the brew pub and microbrewery movement in the late 1980s that Chicago's brewing tradition saw a rebirth.

Enjoy this dish... it is very easy to make and a joy to share with family and friends.

One good quality cured city ham about eight to ten pounds*
Miller Genuine Draft Beer
16 oz Molasses
1/2 cup Dijon Mustard
1/2 cup Brown Sugar

1.  Put the ham in a large pot and cover with beer.
2.  Add the molasses and bring to a boil on the stovetop.
3.  Cover and place in a 275 degree oven and cook for 2 hours
4.  Take the ham out of the liquid and allow to cool slightly.  Set oven to 400 degrees.
5.  Mix mustard and brown sugar together and slather on the ham. 
6.  Bake the ham until the sugar/mustard bubbles and glazes (about fifteen minutes)
7.  Enjoy!

* 95% of the hams sold in the US fall under the categories of either city or country hams.  City hams are wet cured in a brine solution often containing nitrites or nitrates.  Nitrates are not as foreign to curing as you might think.  The salt available to people in the olden days contained saltpeter which naturally broke down into nitrates in solution.  So it wasn't only the salt that helped preserve things, it was also the nitrates that came with the salt.  Country hams are dry cured, rubbed with salt and spices and hung to dry for several months.  These hams have a salty, intense flavor, but require scraping off mold and several soakings in water to prepare the meat for cooking.  They are very expensive since they take longer to bring to market and are lighter because of the loss of water to the air.  The last 5 % of hams are sold uncured or uncured and smoked.  You will never find these in supermarkets as they are mostly sold by small farming operations.

City hams have varying degrees of water added to the brine cured meat.  If it is just marked "ham", there is no additional water injected into the meat.  If it is marked "with natural juices", there is 7 to 8 per cent by weight of juices/water injected.  A "Ham with Water Added" may have up to 10 per cent water and a "Ham and Water Product" may have any amount of water injected into the meat.  Even though you pay more, the quality of the ham taste is significantly better with a no water added ham.

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