There are at least two ways to combat the dryness of modern hams. One is with money; as of this month, you can buy an exquisitely juicy ham made from imported Iberico pork and smoked by the venerable Virginia firm S. Wallace Edwards & Sons. A 5-pound boneless ham choice costs $249.
Or you can combat dryness in the cooking pot, as my mother and I ultimately did. Baked hams are precooked, but most recipes call for baking them again for two to three hours. This seemed like a recipe for fatally dried-out meat.
We consulted Julia Child's books. Her prescription seemed sensible: Braise the ham in wine and water to finish the cooking, then roast it in a hot oven to crisp the surface.
The end result was glazed with mustard and brown sugar and crusted with golden bread crumbs. Having spent two hours underwater, the meat was tender, juicy and much less salty than the hams I have tasted on other people's tables. I'm a convert.
Start to finish: about 3 hours; servings: 2 to 3 a pound
1 cooked, bone-in "city ham," whole or half, 8 to 12 pounds
3 tablespoons butter or vegetable oil
1 cup sliced carrots
1 cup sliced onions
Herb bundle of 12 parsley sprigs, 6 thyme sprigs, 1 bay leaf, 12 peppercorns, 3 cloves, tied together in cheesecloth
1 bottle dry white wine
If there is tough skin covering the top of the ham, cut it off to expose the fat. In a large, deep pot, heat butter or oil over medium-high heat. Add carrots and onions and saute until tender and golden brown, about 10 minutes.
Place the ham on the vegetables, fatty side up. Add herb bundle, wine and 1 quart water and bring to a simmer.
Cook for 2 to 3 hours at a bare simmer; baste with a ladle every 20 minutes. After 2 hours, test with a meat thermometer; the ham is ready when the internal temperature reaches 135 degrees. Turn off the heat.
Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Drain ham, reserving cooking liquid to use for stock (it freezes well). Place the ham on a rack in a roasting pan, fatty side up, and score the fat in a diamond pattern with the tip of sharp knife. If using a glaze, brush it on now.
Place the ham in the oven; roast 15 to 20 minutes until lightly browned. If using glaze, brush on more after first 10 minutes of cooking. Remove it from the oven, tent with foil, and let rest it 20 to 30 minutes before carving.