How to Remove Excess Salt from Ham after Cooking

We’ve all been there – you excitedly take the ham out of the oven after it’s done cooking ready to dig in only to find it’s way too salty! Don’t worry, there are several tricks you can try to reduce the saltiness of ham after it’s already cooked.

As someone who loves hosting holidays and always cooking a big baked ham for my family, I’ve had to deal with overly salty ham more times than I can count. Over the years I’ve discovered some super effective strategies to remove salt from ham even after it’s finished cooking.

In this article, I’ll share with you my top tips and hacks so you can easily desalinate your ham and save the meal. Keep reading to become a pro at making salty ham taste delicious again!

Why is Ham Salty in the First Place?

Before we jump into the solutions, it helps to understand why ham ends up so salty.

Ham is cured as part of the preservation process. Curing involves packing the raw pork in salt or soaking it in brine, which is very salty water. This draws out moisture, creates an inhospitable environment for bacteria, and infuses the meat with flavor.

After curing, ham is often smoked as well for additional preservation and extra flavor. This curing and smoking process is what transforms a regular ol’ pork leg into the delicious delight that is ham!

However, all that time spent surrounded by salt and brine means ham tends to absorb a lot of sodium in the curing process. Some types of ham, like country ham or other artisanal dry-cured varieties, are extra salty from their lengthy curing time.

Tips to Remove Salt from Ham After Cooking

Luckily, there are several effective methods you can use to get rid of excess saltiness in cooked ham:

Rinse and Soak the Ham

One of the easiest and most effective ways to desalinate ham is to give it a good rinse under cool running water before cooking. This washes away any superficial salt on the exterior of the meat.

For very salty hams, like a dry-cured country ham, you may want to take it a step further and soak the ham in water before cooking.

  • Place the raw ham in a large container and cover completely with cool water.

  • Let it soak for several hours or up to a couple days for very salty hams, changing the water periodically.

  • Remove ham from the soak water, rinse briefly to wash away any remaining surface salt, and pat dry with paper towels.

  • Proceed with cooking as usual.

The extended soak allows time for the salty ham to release some of its absorbed sodium into the water. Just be sure to soak in the fridge so it stays cold and safe from bacterial growth.

Pour Off Drippings While Cooking

When you bake a ham, salty juices are released into the bottom of the pan as the meat cooks.

Pouring these drippings off halfway through roasting helps remove some of the accumulated saltiness:

  • Cook ham in oven for about 30 minutes per pound.

  • Carefully remove pan from oven and pour drippings into a heatproof container.

  • Allow ham to rest for 5-10 minutes.

  • Return to oven to finish cooking until internal temperature reaches 140°F.

Discard the poured off drippings or use them for another purpose, like making a flavorful ham stock. Just don’t use them for basting or making gravy, since they’re very salty.

Skip the Salt in Side Dishes

You can mask some of the ham’s saltiness by pairing it with blander side dishes. Starchy foods like potatoes, pasta, rice, or bread don’t have much flavor on their own, allowing the ham to take center stage.

Avoid using salty ingredients like cheese, bacon, or packaged rice and pasta mixes when making sides. And refrain from adding any extra salt to the recipe. Let the natural flavors shine through to balance out the briny ham.

Creative Ways to Remove Salt After Ham is Cooked

If your ham still turns out very salty even after the above preventative measures, all is not lost! There are several clever tricks you can use to remove salt from fully cooked ham:

Soak in Milk

The proteins in milk products are great at attracting and neutralizing salt.

  • Place sliced ham in a shallow container just big enough to lay the pieces flat.

  • Pour over enough milk, buttermilk, yogurt, or sour cream to just cover the surface.

  • Let soak 10-15 minutes, then flip ham and soak another 10-15 minutes.

  • Remove ham from the milk bath and pat dry.

The milk soak with draw out and dilute some of the salty flavor from the ham slices.

Make a Sweet Glaze

Complementary sweet and salty flavors can balance each other out. Brush cooked ham with a sweet glaze 10-15 minutes before the end of roasting time:

  • In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup honey, and 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard.

  • Brush mixture over all surfaces of ham.

  • Return to oven to finish cooking until ham is 140°F.

The sugars and honey will temper the saltiness.

Add Acidic Ingredients

Bright, acidic components like citrus juice and vinegar can help cut through heavy saltiness. Squeeze fresh lemon or lime juice over sliced ham. Or drizzle on a teaspoon or two of cider vinegar or rice wine vinegar. The tangy acidity helps neutralize the salt.

Boost Creamy Flavors

Rich, creamy sauces and condiments are another great way to mellow out very salty ham. Dollop some sour cream, Greek yogurt or mayo-based sauce on your plated ham. The lush textures and mild flavors balance the salt and create a more pleasant eating experience.

Dilute with More Liquid

If salty ham is already diced up or shredded for another dish like soup, chili or casserole, you can dilute the saltiness by adding more liquid.

  • For soup, increase broth, tomatoes or water.

  • For chili, add extra beans, tomatoes, broth, or beer.

  • For casseroles, increase milk, cream or stock.

  • For hash, add more melted butter or oil when sautéing.

Adding more volume dilutes the salty flavor so it’s not so overpowering.

Helpful Tips to Keep in Mind

  • Opt for less salty ham varieties like city hams over very salty country hams when possible. Or buy reduced sodium ham.

  • Cut thicker ham slices versus thinner to minimize salty impact.

  • Cook ham with the rind on, then remove rind before eating to decrease saltiness.

  • Add a touch of sweetness with pineapple, honey mustard, brown sugar glaze.

  • Wrap leftovers tightly and store in fridge to prevent drying out and concentrating salty taste.

  • Stick to the basics when seasoning additional ingredients – salt-free herbs, black pepper, spices.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you soak fully cooked ham to desalt it?

Yes, it is safe to soak fully cooked hams to help remove excess salt. Fully cooked means the ham has been heated to an internal temperature of at least 140°F, making it safe to eat without additional cooking. A water soak will draw out some of the saltiness.

How long should you soak ham in milk?

Most sources recommend soaking ham in milk or other dairy products for 10-15 minutes on each side. Any longer than 30 minutes total can start to make the ham slimy in texture. The milk proteins work quickly to attract and neutralize salt.

Does boiling ham reduce salt?

Boiling ham in plain water can be an effective way to desalinate it. Simmer the ham in lightly salted or unsalted water for 2-3 hours to leach out some of the salty flavor. Be aware this extended boiling time can make the ham texture dry.

What is the best way to reheat leftover ham?

To retain moisture, reheat leftover baked ham in the oven or on the stovetop over low heat with a little broth, water, or sauce. Microwaving can lead to dry, tough ham. Take it slow to warm it through without drying it out.

The Takeaway

An overly salty ham can really put a damper on your meal. But armed with these clever tricks to remove excess salt after cooking, you can now rescue even the saltiest ham.

Next time your ham ends up extra briny, don’t panic. Just soak, rinse, dilute, or add sweetness or acidity to temper the saltiness. Now you can look forward to enjoying tender, juicy ham that makes your tastebuds sing!

How to Desalt Ham

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