- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 22, 2005

A “fresh ham” — an uncured hind leg of a pig — “makes for a dramatic presentation, and it provides a vast amount of meat, making it perfect for a buffet,” writes the author of “Frank Stitt’s Southern Table” (Artisan).

Mr. Stitt is chef and owner of Highlands Bar and Grill, Cafe Bottega and Chez Fonfon, all in Birmingham, Ala. He won the 2001 James Beard Award for best chef of the Southeast. His cooking combines Southern traditions with Provencal flair.

Placing the pork in a brine for 24 hours adds flavor and juiciness. “The brine recipe I provide comes from my friend Jeremiah Tower’s book, ‘Jeremiah Cooks,’” Mr. Stitt says.

The following recipe for roast fresh pork is among Mr. Stitt’s cookbook’s “Recipes and Gracious Traditions,” as the subtitle has it, “From Highlands Bar and Grill.”

It is a dish that could well take pride of place on an Easter dinner table. Be sure to remove the aitchbone for easy carving; your butcher can do this, the chef advises.

The spring bulb onions in the accompanying gratin recipe are often sold as “Vidalia shoots” from December to May. They are mild, sweet and juicy, Mr. Stitt writes in a note with this recipe. “There are countless other types of bulb onions found in farmers’ markets. Combine them all if you like, and include some of the stems.”

Roast fresh pork leg with onion-and-bacon gratin

Onion-and-bacon gratin (recipe follows)

1 fresh ham (uncured hind pork leg), about 14 pounds, skinned, trimmed of fat, aitchbone removed (have the butcher do this)


2 gallons water

1 cup kosher salt

½ cup sugar

4 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tablespoon juniper berries, toasted (see note) and crushed

6 thyme sprigs, leaves removed

6 bay leaves

½ bunch flat-leaf parsley, leaves removed and chopped

4 dried hot chili peppers

2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon dried thyme

Combine all ingredients in a large pot and bring to a simmer, stirring until the salt and sugar are dissolved, then transfer to a deep pot. Place in the refrigerator to cool thoroughly before using.

Place the pork leg in the chilled brine, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 12 hours. Turn the pork over in the brine and leave refrigerated for 12 hours more.

Remove the pork leg from the brine, wipe it dry, and set it on a platter. Let it come to room temperature, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Place the pork in a large roasting pan. Roast until the internal temperature reaches 145 to 150 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 4 hours.

Remove roast from the oven, and let the pork stand on a large rack set over a baking sheet for 30 minutes.

Serve the pork thinly sliced, with the gratin alongside. Makes 10 servings, with leftovers.


2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus (optional) ½ tablespoon

3 large yellow onions, quartered and sliced

2 ounces slab bacon, cut into small lardons (1-by-1/4-inch strips)

6 1- to 2-inch-diameter spring onions with stems

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 garlic clove, crushed

2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano

2 tablespoons freshly grated Comte cheese (or substitute Gruyere or Asiago mixed with a little Parmigiano-Reggiano)

½ cup medium-coarse bread crumbs

½ cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

In a large saute pan, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium-high heat. Add the sliced yellow onions and bacon, and cook until the onions are quite soft, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a colander to drain.

Meanwhile, trim the spring onions, then cut them, stems still attached, into 4 to 6 wedges each. Place the onions in the saute pan, and add a pinch of salt and pepper, the remaining 1 tablespoon butter, and 2 tablespoons water. Bring to a simmer over high heat; cook until glazed, 5 to 7 minutes.

Rub the bottom and sides of a 10-inch gratin dish with the garlic. Scatter the cooked sliced onions and bacon on the bottom, and season with salt and pepper.

Top with a layer of the spring onion wedges. Scatter the grated cheeses evenly over the onions, then sprinkle the bread crumbs over the top. Pour the cream in along the edges of the gratin, and dot the top with a little extra butter, if desired.

Bake until the gratin is golden and the cream is absorbed, about 25 minutes. Makes 8 servings.


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