My maternal grandfather, “Pop-Pete,” was a sugarcane farmer who also maintained a full-fledged farm stocked with pigs, cows, ducks and chickens. A vegetable garden yielded tomatoes, corn, beans, cabbage, beets, eggplant and potatoes.
I loved nothing better than spending Sundays there, when the meal usually featured a perfectly baked chicken and rice dressing that sometimes had the addition of bits of smothered eggplant. Sometimes there was corn pudding or green beans smothered with ham or bacon. Dessert was pecan pie or creamy bread pudding. But the real prize that was usually offered for festive occasions was the fresh ham, shank end.
When Pop-Pete hosted his annual boucherie, sometimes three pigs were slaughtered so that friends, neighbors and the farm workers could have a stash to take home, but it was the fresh ham, shank end that he always set aside for a special family event. This is the cut that usually is used for bone-in hams.
One 10- to 12-pound fresh ham shank
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large green bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
10 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 teaspoons salt
3 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups water (or more as needed)
Preheat the oven to 450ºF.
Set the pork roast (ham shank) on a large cutting board or platter. Combine the onion, bell pepper, garlic, salt, cayenne and black pepper in a small bowl and mix well.
With a sharp boning knife, make several deep slits in the roast spaced several inches apart. Using your index finger, stuff the seasoning mixture into the slits, packing it in firmly. Season the outside of the roast generously with more salt and cayenne pepper. Rub the roast lightly with vegetable oil.
Place the roast in a heavy roasting pan and put it in the preheated oven. When the bottom of the pan begins to sizzle, carefully add the water. Bake the roast until it browns evenly, 30 to 45 minutes.
More water can be added if the pan becomes too dry. This will mix with the roast drippings and make a dark gravy that can be used now for basting the roast, then later to pour over steamed rice.
When the roast is well-browned, reduce the heat to 350ºF, cover it, and cook until the juices run clear and the roast is tender, 3 to 4 hours.
Remove from oven and cool slightly before carving.