Pie Ranch recently butchered one of their Berkshire pigs and I was lucky enough to get a fresh ham for our French Cooking on the Farm class. Although fresh ham is not typical in France (they love to cure this cut just like we do) the preparation is and can be applied to larger cuts of pork.

Fresh Ham

Fresh Ham packed in Herbs, Lemon & Orange Peel, & Fennel Seed and Larded in Bacon

It was hard to tell whether this cut was the lower shank, which is preferable, or the whole ham because it was already boned out and de-fatted before I got to it. However, if you have the option go for the lower shank part and I would not bone it out (tastes better and way more dramatic to present table side) and I would leave the fat and the skin on because it adds so much flavor while roasting. Yes, it makes it harder to cut – you need to score the skin down through fat layer otherwise it’s impossible to cut through without a jigsaw – but I think the flavor is far superior.

Pork fat is just one of the best things on earth!

I did not brine this ham, although that would have worked well, but instead made an herbed salt pack with orange & lemon peel, fennel seed, rosemary, garlic, and thyme and left it on for 15 hours and I did not wash it off before roasting. Because there was very little fat the citrus oils, herbs, and salinity permeated thoroughly.

Fresh ham

Fresh ham from a Pie Ranch Berkshire Pig

Had there been fat I would have scored it all over vertically and horizontally to the size I wanted to slice it and then rubbed the herbed salt pack in between the crevices. I larded the ham with strips of bacon because I needed fat to help baste this beast. The bacon wasn’t for serving – it just gets too crispy during the long cooking time. For a smaller more tender cut like pork loin roasts, larding with bacon works well because it cooks faster.

Cooking in a wood fire oven is a little tricky but I love and prefer it because I can fit so many dishes in one space and the flavor is incredible! I roasted this ham for two and half hours. When I put the roast in, the temp was around to 425˚F and then it fell to around 325˚F by the time it was done. This temperature drop works in favor of roasting a tougher piece of meat like this. Love that smokey flavor – yum, yum!

Fresh Ham with Citrus Peel Fennel Seed Herb Crust

Fresh Ham with Citrus Peel Fennel Seed Herb Crust

I have to warn you, when you slice into Fresh Ham it is not going to be pink like a cured ham. It’s going to be white-ish grey. That’s how it is. And if you try to cook it medium rare it looks wrong because the flesh is dark pink and it stands out against the cooked meat. Go for just below medium on this cut called  “demi anglais” or “rosé à plus“.  If you take the roast out at around 145˚F it should rise to 152-155˚F which is below the American Medium temperature of 160˚F.

Just don’t “carbonisé” it!

I served it with wheat berries and large roasted white spring onions and fennel that I let cook away in the pan juices of the ham. The jus was incredible with all that flavor from the caramelized onions and fennel and herb citrus drippings and a little white wine – just awesome!

Wheat Berries and Roasted Onions and Fennel

Wheat Berries and Roasted Onions and Fennel

I love Pie Ranch! Fun! Come join us for our next French Cooking Class dates to be announced….

Fresh Ham with Citrus Peel and Fennel Seed Herb Crust


  • 9 lb. fresh ham (leave fat on and bone in if desired and choose the shank end) 8 lbs. if boned out
  • 1 medium lemon, zested with a vegetable peeler, then chopped
  • 2 medium oranges, zested with a vegetable peeler, then chopped
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 bunches fresh thyme, chopped
  • 2 bunches fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 5-6 tablespoons fennel seed, toasted lightly
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons freshly ground black peper
  • 8 strips of thick applewood bacon
  • For the Pan Sauce
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • Splash of sherry vinegar
  • 1 cup chicken stock or water
  • 2 tablespoon. unsalted cold butter (optional)

If you have a ham with fat and skin, use a sharp chef's knife to score the fat vertically and horizontally creating a 1/2-inch to 1/4-inch diamond pattern. The size of your scoring will determine how thick your slices are because its almost impossible to cut through crackle (skin). Score through the fat just down to the flesh and don't go beyond.

In a food processor pulse all the other ingredients in the rub (minus the bacon) and make a rustic paste. Rub this all over the ham and in between the crevices of the scored fat. Place the bacon strips over the the top of the ham and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 12 to 15 hours, or overnight.

If you are using a wood fire oven prepare the temperature to 450˚F and make sure the floor of the oven is evenly heated by spreading coals out.  Do the same thing if cooking in a regular oven but don't worry about the coals and instead adjust oven rack so ham fits with some head space.

Put ham on a roasting roasting rack in a 2-inch roasting pan so you can roast desired vegetables in pan drippings  underneath it (fennel? Onions?). Make sure the ham is at room temperature before roasting. Tent ham in roasting pan with foil and cook on 425˚F for 30 minutes and drop the temperature to 350˚F for the remaining time – around 2 to 2 1/2 hours more. Cook the ham uncovered for the last half hour so the skin has a chance to crisp up. Baste every 15 minutes.

When the ham is browned and a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the roast (do not touch bone when you get this reading) is 145°F then remove ham and let it rest for 15 minutes tented loosely with foil. Pour the pan drippings into a measuring cup and skim off fat. Put the roasting pan onto to the stove top burners over medium high heat and deglaze the pan with white wine and splash of sherry vinegar scrapping up all the yummy caramelized fat. Add the drippings and the chicken stock and continue to cook and reduce to 1/2 cup.  Do not salt the jus until it has reduced or it can get too salty.

For a thicker glossy jus shake in 4 tablespoons of cold unsalted butter on low heat. Do not overheat the jus at this point or it will break (the butter will separate). Slice ham and serve with jus alongside! Yum!