The first time I had fresh picnic ham, I was twenty-one, working as a chef in Imola, Italy. On a day off we went to the Formula One racetrack. In Italy, this type of stuff is their “ballpark food” — their version of a hot dog. They put freshly roasted whole pigs smeared with garlic and rosemary on trucks and head out to the speedways. You walk up to the truck and they hand you a slice they’ve just cut, topped with a piece of crackly skin.
I love to make this on Sundays to eat throughout the week, but it usually doesn’t last past Monday. I use the shank end of a fresh pork leg — also called a fresh ham — because the dark and white meat and the connective tissue give you a robust pork flavor. Ask your butcher to score the fat for you — it’ll keep it from curling up. Or you can score it yourself by cutting a crosshatch pattern into the skin with an X-Acto knife. This dish is really hard to mess up — the skin protects the meat from drying out, so you’d have to really try to overcook it.
- ¼ cup chopped fresh rosemary
- 2 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
- 2 tablespoon fennel seeds, toasted
- 3 cloves garlic
- Grated zest of 2 lemons
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 fresh ham*, 8-10 pounds
- 1 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Combine all the ingredients except for the ham and olive oil in a food processor and buzz together until green. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Place about 1 inch of water in the bottom of a big roasting pan fitted with a rack. Brush the ham with olive oil and season liberally with the herbed salt mix. (Cover and save the extra mix in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.) Place the ham on a roasting-pan rack and put in the oven. Cook until the skin is golden and crackling and the internal temperature at the bone is 160 degrees 2 ½-3 hours (18-22 minutes per pound). Remove from the oven, cover lightly with foil, and let rest for at least 20 minutes. Slice and eat with a drizzle of olive oil and extra herbed salt.