Turkey Ham

Often when I make turkey ham the first question I get is…why? Why make a ham out of a turkey breast? Answer, because I want to enjoy a moist turkey breast. Let’s be honest, a traditional bake on a wild turkey is seldom satisfying. With this ham I can slice thin for sandwiches, thicker for breakfasts or even cube for soup. It is far more versatile than a traditional roasted turkey breast.

To be clear “ham” is not a thing but a process, ie to make a “ham” pig is not necessary. Ham either a wet cured or a dry cured meat. For this recipe I am wet curing a wild turkey breast. Technically you could dry cure a wild turkey but I have never done so (time to experiment).

The reason wet curing works is because of the diffusion process we all learned about in 8th grade science. Basically the salty water in the brine mix wants to diffuse (make even) the amount of salt it has with the lack of salt in the meat. The meat absorbs salt water and the salt water becomes less salty. This process has been used as long as man has been around to keep meat from rotting. Salt is an antimicrobial and a wonderful preservative. Salt is the only rock we need to stay alive.

Humans are actually hard wired to like salt. In fact so are most animals. That is why animals will often congregate in areas with high mineral contents and why salt licks are banned in many hunting areas. (Salt is the only rock animals need to stay alive, ironically it also keeps dead things edible longer)

There are also many different types of salt. Some are specifically used for curing meat. I use insta-cure #1 for almost everything. Why? It is a bacterial growth inhibitor. Specifically it stops botulism. Mmmm, botulism. Now this is important because some bugs actually thrive in nasty environments like salt brines, insta-cure kills most of them. It also gives meat that cool pink color. While you can skip the insta-cure #1 in most recipes I do not recommend it, you are putting yourself at risk. Plus the meat looks drab and grey without the cure.

Insta Cure #1 contains salt and sodium nitrite, NOT nitrate. So, I guess don’t freak out that you are going to get cancer when you use it. However, the bad rap for nitrate is akin to the bad rap on MSG. Both have been totally overblown and the tests were run with dose amounts that would be like freebasing with Jerry Garcia. And with a gratuitous Grateful Dead reference we move on to the recipe.

Turkey Ham

2 quarts hot water
½ cup salt
½ cup white sugar
½ cup brown sugar (or honey)
1 tablespoon insta-cure #1
¼ cup “aromatics”

2 ea turkey breasts (breast meat from one whole bird)

Add the hot water to a large container able to hold the turkey breast meat and the liquid. Next stir in the salt, sugar, brown sugar and insta-cure #1. All the solid particles should diffuse into the water. Next add the “aromatics” of your choice. This can be anything really. Orange zest, juniper berries, pickling spices. Really whatever you want to impart additional flavors into the ham with. Careful, but have fun.

Next add the turkey meat. It is best if the water is not scolding hot when the meat goes in. Let the meat soak for a week in the refrigerator. Make sure that all the meat is submerged.

After a week remove the turkey from the brine. Pat the turkey dry and let rest on the counter until room temperature. Then smoke the turkey for 4 hours or until it reaches 155 degrees. If you are not a smoked ham fan simply bake the ham at 375 degrees until 155 degrees at the thickest section. This is very important, the ham will “carry over” to 165 degrees and 165 is necessary for a “kill step” with bacteria.

See this recipe for more information on carryover cooking.

When cooked let the ham rest 30 minutes before cutting into it. This will help retain the moisture.

Eat and enjoy. The ham will last over a week in the fridge and indefinitely in the freezer.

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