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Soft drinks can add a special flavor to a dish that nothing else can impart. It’s that “sparkle” from the carbonation, along with a drink’s signature flavor. A lemon-lime soda can add extra punch to a citrus recipe; cola can add a caramel flavor; and root beer can add a mix of tastes that’s completely unique.
Chef Martha Hall Foose says, “Root beer is an effervescent blend of infusions and extracts slightly fermented to produce carbon dioxide. Sassafras roots and bark, dandelion, wild cherry, burdock, spruce, wintergreen, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and anise are flavorings found in root beers.” Root beer makes a sweet glaze that complements the saltiness of ham in the following recipe from Foose’s soon-to-be-published book, Screen Doors and Sweet Tea: Recipes and Tales from a Southern Cook (Clarkson Potter, April 2008).
Foose penned this book to share her wealth of knowledge in baking and Southern cooking. The Mississippi native studied pastry in France before beginning her career at a renowned bakery in Los Angeles. She has worked for The Pillsbury Company in Minneapolis and has cooked in restaurants from Austin to Burlington, Vermont. She is now the executive chef of the Viking Cooking School in Greenwood, Mississippi, her home town.
1 whole or butt end, bone in, “city” cured ham
1 can root beer
2 cups root beer glaze (recipe follows)
Heat oven to 250 degrees. Line a large roasting pan with foil. Place ham in roasting pan fat side up for shank end or whole hams or cut side down for butt end hams. Add 1/2 cup root beer or enough to cover bottom of pan by 3/4 inch. Let sit a while to come to room temperature. Tent ham loosely with foil. Bake undisturbed until thermometer inserted in center reads 110 degrees (1 to 3 hours depending on size and cut of ham.) Meanwhile, prepare glaze. Remove ham from oven. Increase oven temperature to 325 degrees. Pour off accumulated pan juices and reserve for sauce. Cut away excess fat. Score ham in diamond pattern. Spread glaze over scored surface of ham. Insert whole cloves at intersections of cuts.
Bake at 325 degrees until center temperature reaches 120 degrees, approximately 1 hour. Let ham rest for at least 15 minutes before carving.
1 cup root beer
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons prepared mustard
Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Simmer stirring often over low heat 10 minutes until a thin saucy consistency. Use to glaze ham. Pour accumulated ham juices into saucepan of glaze. Return to a simmer and cook until thickened. Defat and serve as a sauce with ham.
Note: A “city” ham is smoked and wet cured. A “country” ham is dry cured and smoked. Steer clear of hams that have been injected with saline or other additives. These are sometimes labeled “water added.” Look for a ham that has the majority of its fat cap intact.