Cooked ham is a food that is tasty and rich in protein, and low in fat.
Therefore, it is also suitable for people who have to follow a low-calorie diet; however, it must be kept very fresh to appreciate all its organoleptic properties fully.
If you want to have a little bit of stock to use in the next few days, it is fundamental to adopt some tricks to conserve it properly in the refrigerator or the freezer, even though this last option must be used as a fallback in case of leftovers.
As it is known, when cured meat comes into contact with air, its taste and color change drastically, especially the latter, which will become darker, appear duller and will not be tasty at all.
But which are the most recommended preservation methods? This practical guide will provide lots of valuable tips and suggestions on how to choose a good quality product.
How to preserve sliced cooked ham
The first step to preserve sliced cooked ham is to buy the correct quantity at the fresh meat counter. To consume it within a maximum of three days and keep it wrapped up the special white paper, taking care, however, not to leave it in contact with air to prevent it from drying out.
This is the only type of paper capable of adequately isolating the food from the odors and flavors of all the others present inside the refrigerator.
If you do not have time to go to the supermarket often, you can choose the cold cuts sold in trays, whose size ranges from 50 grams to 120 grams. As for the latter, it is only necessary to pay attention to the expiry date written on the packaging. Otherwise, it will become rancid and inedible.
The same applies to vacuum storage: it only keeps for a few weeks but does not retain all the original freshness, as this method prevents the meat from breathing.
As for freezing it, it is to be considered only in case it is to be used for the preparation of cooked meals, as, even if thawed at room temperature a couple of hours before consumption, it would lose its typical aroma.
Cooked ham in its version mentioned above becomes the perfect ingredient to stuff roasts, baked pasta, crepes, etc.
How to preserve whole cooked ham
The preservation of whole cooked ham is different from that of sliced ham, requiring more care.
A valid alternative could be to cut it in cylinders, cubes or pieces and put it in an airtight jar together with chopped parsley, oregano, or other aromatic herbs.
In this case, the preservation, provided it takes place in a cool, dark and dry place, can last up to two months and once drained of oil, the ham maintains its scent, freshness and flavor as if it had just been bought.
This speciality becomes excellent to serve as an appetiser and as an ingredient to be used for the preparation of many recipes of first and second courses; you need to let your imagination lead and inspire you.
If you do not like this way of preserving it, it can also be sliced with a slicer or cut into cubes and used in a unique machine for vacuum packing. To avoid wasting the product, it is recommended to write the expiry date on every package of the whole slice, to monitor it easily.
If you don’t have the vacuum packing machine, don’t worry because kitchen paper will do just fine, which in turn will be covered with aluminum foil.
In this way, it will retain all the humidity of the salami, which, if kept in the coldest part of the refrigerator, can last up to fifteen days. It is equally good to use a damp cotton cloth, provided it has only been washed with water to avoid it absorbing the detergent’s scent.
Substantial differences between preserving sliced and whole cooked ham
Whole cooked ham has a longer shelf life than sliced ham, as the latter, being thinner, tends to dry out much faster. This is the substantial difference in preserving the two versions of this cured meat.
If you are going to freeze a slice, it is recommended to divide it into smaller portions so that you use only the necessary amount for that recipe, as it is not good to put it back in the freezer.
Before placing the various portions in the appliance, place them inside separate freezer bags and seal them so that they do not have the possibility of coming into contact with other foods.
Finally, it should be remembered that the freezing time can last up to a couple of months, after which it is recommended to consume the product by the means suggested above.
How to choose a quality cooked ham
Proper preservation of cooked ham goes hand in hand with the choice of a good quality product.
Even if it seems like a trivial concept, it is anything but the words cooked ham must be present on the packaging. Otherwise, various parts of the pig are assembled and sold at bargain prices.
Of course, this is not enough, and the following elements need to be considered:
- Selected cooked ham: this wording indicates that the product has been made from the whole leg of pork;
- high quality cooked ham: it can be so defined if it contains at least three of the four main muscles of the pig’s thigh and has a moisture content of less than 75.5%;
- Low moisture content: must range from 75.5% to 81%;
- the fat should be porcelain white and should be easily separable from the slice;
- The slice should not crumble, but rather the consistency should be homogeneous and show the veins of the pig’s muscles;
- the color of the flesh must be opaque pink. Therefore, be wary of all shiny hams, hams with a greenish tint or hams kept in damp trays;
- the list of ingredients must be as short as possible and must not include gelatin, starch, milk proteins, maltodextrins, starches, flavor enhancers, flavorings and polyphosphates.
- On the contrary, nitrites and nitrates are allowed, E249, E250, 251 and E252 respectively, thanks to which the salami takes its typical pinkish color from and can be kept longer;
- price: a good cooked ham never has a low price, except in the case of certain promotional offers of limited duration. It must be kept in mind that the high cost serves to compensate for both the quality of the raw materials and the processing times.
Is it better to store cooked ham with or without the fat?
Definitely with the fat, as the job of this part is to keep the lean part hydrated. Therefore, if you have a slice, cut off the amount that you intend to consume along with the fatty part.
The latter, if not appreciated, can be discarded later on or used as an ingredient to flavor risottos, meats, soups, stews and much more.
Preserving cooked ham: things to absolutely avoid
This paragraph will provide some important recommendations about what to avoid doing when preserving cooked ham, sliced or whole.
Expose it to air: air is the bitter enemy of cooked ham, as it dries it in a flash, making it unpleasant to eat;
Remove fat before storing: fat should be removed from time to time, as it helps keep the meat tender;
Refreezing a thawed ham: there is nothing more harmful, as the food would be subjected to continuous temperature changes that would irreparably damage both the flavor and the organoleptic properties.
It should also be remembered that the successful freezing of a cured meat depends a lot on its quality. If it has been produced industrially and chemically treated, it will contain more additives and preservatives, affecting the preservation and freezing process.
On the other hand, if it has been handcrafted and preserved naturally, it will be much easier to obtain good results.
Consume a product with a raised packaging: we are talking about sliced cooked ham sold in trays. If the upper part of the latter has a bulge, do not purchase it and do not consume it, even if the expiry date has not yet come to an end.
The swelling of the packaging is a symptom of poor storage of the product by the dealer; think of the inadequate transport;
Consume a product with shiny or greenish veins: these are clear signs of rancidity. Besides having an unpleasant taste, a cooked ham having such aesthetical characteristics may create health problems;
Expose cooked ham to direct sunlight or heat sources, accelerating deterioration and altering the taste.
If it is desired to consume the product outside the home and the temperature is hot, get a thermal bag or a portable cooler to place some refrigerating blocks capable of keeping it fresh. In this case, if the ham is sliced fresh, keep it in the paper in which it was sold.
If it is food located inside a plastic tray, remove it from the tray just before consumption, as the packaging helps to ensure proper freshness and fragrance.
Conclusion on how to preserve cooked ham
Cooked ham is a food suitable for everyone. Still, to avoid wasting money and product, it is advisable to consume it quickly and get a stock ideal for one’s needs while avoiding being tempted by discounts and offers.
It also has a shorter shelf life than other cured meats because it is not subjected to ageing. Therefore, just like all fresh foods, it must be treated to taste it at its best.
To meet customers’ needs, it is possible to find it sliced, whole or cut into strips or cubes.
Sliced ham is perfect for sandwiches or served as an appetizer, whereas the whole version can be eaten alone or accompany other cold cuts and cheeses.
The diced or striped version is ideal for dressing rice salads, salads, or preparing hot first courses.