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How to cook an awesome Easter ham!

You've done your homework, picked out a great ham, got it home — now what? The way you thaw and cook your ham can elevate it from "good" to "GREAT"!The vast majority of the fully-cooked hams that are being shipped (and a lot of the fully-cooked hams that you buy in the grocery) are frozen. This doesn't bother me in the least because my experience has shown no difference in quality between frozen
/ Source: TODAY

You've done your homework, picked out a great ham, got it home — now what? The way you thaw and cook your ham can elevate it from "good" to "GREAT"!

The vast majority of the fully-cooked hams that are being shipped (and a lot of the fully-cooked hams that you buy in the grocery) are frozen. This doesn't bother me in the least because my experience has shown no difference in quality between frozen and unfrozen hams — as long as you use the frozen ham within a month, and as long as you treat the frozen ham correctly.

Defrosting properly is crucial! Allow 24-48 hours for your mega-oinker to slow-thaw in the fridge at about 40 degrees. Do not — I repeat DO NOT! — be tempted by a quick ice-water thaw, or (worse yet) a room-temperature thaw where safety as well as quality becomes an issue. Also, don't succumb to the tales of cooking a frozen ham in the oven "as is." Why?  Proper slow-thawing minimizes the amount of moisture loss and results in greater tenderness. End of story! Remember: Good things come to those who wait and to those who realize 48 hours in advance that they gotta start thawing their hams!

Once a fully-cooked ham is thawed, you have to make a decision about heating it. Yup... I said a decision... because the ham is safe to eat "as is," and some folks simply bring it to room temperature before serving. The good thing about that strategy is that maximum moisture stays in the ham; in the case of spiral cut hams, in fact, I think room temperature is the only way to go. However, a properly heated ham has vastly superior fat-feel and flavor, runs with juices, turns to velvet, and you don't miss out on the sublime aromas that can fill your kitchen!

The cardinal sin that a lot of folks commit when heating a fully cooked ham is that they heat it at too high a temperature for too long. In my ideal method for bringing a fully-cooked, bone-in, refrigerated ham to life, you put the ham in a roasting pan and place a loose foil tent over the top. A rack is not necessary, because at the low temperature you're about to use the ham will not make a sticky mess in the bottom of the pan. Place the ham in a 275-degree oven, and then — if you have a whole, bone-in ham — go relax for a good, long while. How long? Cooking times vary with a number of different factors, but keep this vital piece of info in mind: The instant-read thermometer is your best friend! Check the temperature early, and check it often. You want the finished temperature of your ham, deep inside, to be about 135 degrees — and the ham will be way more juicy and succulent if you reach that temperature slowly. One ham I tested reached 135 degrees at 5 1/2 hours, while another took almost 8 hours. You can count on roughly 6 hours as average. When the ham does finally reach 135 degrees, allow it to rest for 15-30 minutes or so before you start carving.

(Please note: if you've purchased an uncooked or partially cooked ham, it must be heated to 160 degrees before you serve it.)

For more information about David Rosengarten and for complete ordering information on the hams that David discussed on Today, please visit his website at www.rosengartenreport.com/ham

Traditional Easter Side-dishes…..only better!

Serve your ham with some great homey side dishes! Here are a couple of my favorites, each with a special tweak!

Recipes courtesy of David Rosengarten's "It's All American Food" Little, Brown 2003.

Rich Mashed PotatoesDavid Rosengarten

Serves four

There’s only one thing I insist on in a mashed-potato recipe: the use of a ricer, or a food mill. Other means of mashing the potatoes lead to variations of lumpiness and glueiness. Beyond that, however, there are many different options for the finished product. The recipe that follows is a modern version of what was served in my house. My mom, as many moms did, liked to make mashed potatoes rich with dairy products; her DP of choice was tinned, evaporated milk. We loved it! But if you’re going the dairy route, I suggest that mashed potatoes taste even better with heavy cream and lots of butter. This particular recipe has double greatness in it: the dairy flavor is wonderful, AND the roasting of the potatoes leads to a massive payload of potato flavor as well.

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Place the potatoes on the center rack of the oven, and cook for about one hour, or until the potato is soft when squeezed.

3. While the potatoes are cooking, place the cream in a small saucepan over medium heat. As the cream approaches a boil, drop in the butter, and cook until it has melted entirely. Turn off the heat and reserve.

4. When potatoes are done, remove them from the oven and allow them to cool for about 2 minutes, or until you can handle them. It is very important that you do not allow the potatoes to cool too much because they will become starchy. Cut the potatoes in half and scoop out the insides.

Pass cooked potato pulp through a ricer or a food mill into a large, clean pot. Re-warm the cream-butter mixture if it has cooled down. Over low heat, whip about 3/4 of the cream-butter mixture into the riced potatoes. Check the consistency of the potatoes, and add more cream and butter if you like a richer, creamier texture. Season with salt and pepper; fold in the chives (if desired) and serve immediately.

912292160575609233561060497potatoes2.5pound4 medium Russet potatoes, about 2 1/2 lbs.cream2cup2 cups heavy creambutter0.5pound1/2 lb. unsalted butter, cut into 16 piecessalt 2teaspoon2 teaspoons salt (more or less to taste)ground black pepper1teaspoon1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepperchives 4tablespoon4 tablespoons finely sliced chives (optional)

For more information about David Rosengarten and for complete ordering information on the hams that David discussed on "Today" visit his web site at:  www.rosengartenreport.com/ham