Irish ham tends to refer to ham manufactured in Belfast or Limerick. It usually is part or most of a leg of pork, which may be deboned. It’s not hard to understand why many people sing its praises, even ordering it from Ireland for the authentic taste. Unlike other types of hams, Irish ham is brined or pickled, then smoked over peat, or over juniper. This gives it a spicy, evergreen taste that many find simply delicious.
You may be able to find Irish ham imported in specialty markets, particularly if they import from Ireland or the UK. On occasions, particularly around Easter and Christmas, butcher stores may order a few, or you can talk to your butcher about ordering one. This type of ham does take a little work to prepare. It must be soaked overnight prior to being baked. If you are buying a tiny portion of Irish ham and not a full one, you can usually omit this soaking process. Though cured and smoked, the ham is raw, so it absolutely must be cooked fully before serving it.
Though in the US, spiral sliced hams and the like tend toward garnishing or basting a ham with sweet flavors, most recipes for Irish ham tend toward savory sauces for basting. You’ll find numerous recipes, many of them including beer, mustard, and/or whisky. You can certainly use a sweeter basting sauce like one containing brown sugar or honey if that is your preference.
If you’re having difficulty finding Irish ham you can always turn to the Internet, probably the best source for purchasing them. They can be expensive; expect to pay about five US dollars (USD) a pound for them. Alternately, though you may miss the peat smoke and juniper flavor, most country style hams will make a good substitute for the Irish ham. Country hams and Irish hams are somewhat labor intensive to prepare since they do require overnight soaking in most cases. Some also complain that the brining process leaves the hams too salty.
If properly soaked, the ham should be less salty in taste, and serving it in thin slices can help reduce its overall strong flavor. It can also help to serve the ham with water rich foods like fruit. Though more savory flavors tend to be preferred with this type of ham, those who don’t like a salty flavor may better prefer the ham if it is garnished with fruit like pineapple.