Leftover ham can be like a Wisconsin winter: Like the first snow, a meal of baked ham is lovely and new, but by day three we’re done already.
A ham — bone in or not — is a dense meat, so a little goes a long way. Plus, they tend come in sizes that range from 5 pounds (half ham, semi boneless) to 10 to 18 pounds (whole ham, bone-in). Even at 3/4-pound per person per serving, that’s still a lot of leftover meat.
Unlike beef, pork or chicken, ham’s curing process makes it hard to dress up — or re-dress after the first or second meal. The key then is to let ham play to its strengths as a punchy accent to tamer ingredients.
For this reason, three of my favorite post-Sunday (or post-Easter) ham dishes are split pea soup with ham, eggs Benedict and a ham-noodle casserole dubbed by my grandmother Larson as “Schinkenflecken.”
If your ham was bone-in, then split pea soup puts that bone to good use and amps up the flavor of split peas. Other bean soups can also be made, like Navy bean, butter beans or lentils.
A key ingredient to these soups is time. Getting a pea soup to become “as thick as pea soup” is a low-and-slow process that can take several hours. While it’s tempting to put it on the stove and walk away for a long time, diligence should be taken to stir it from time to time to prevent sticking.
The other key tip is to skim the fat during cooking and chop the meat that falls off the bone. Bonus: pea soup leftovers can be frozen for those quick soup-and-sandwich nights.
As one who never has an issue with eating “breakfast for dinner,” eggs Benedict is an acceptable evening meal. Thick slices of baked ham on top of toasted English muffin halves or sourdough bread, layered with a poached egg and homemade hollandaise sauce, can be fairly hearty fare. Heart-healthy, not so much, so diner be aware.
Regarding the hollandaise, while it usually falls in the “advanced class” of French sauce techniques, my mother taught me a very simple version that works for reasons I cannot explain. The important thing is to remove sauce from the heat as soon as it begins to congeal.
Schinkenflecken is a ham-noodle-egg-sourcream casserole I first encountered in childhood. My father, who didn’t cook much, once put this quick dish together, telling us it was a dish made by his mother, Dottie Larson. Years later I found out that “schinken” is German for ham, which makes sense as German is one of my family’s ancestral lines. “Flecken,” however, makes less sense, as it is a word for stains or spots, which could in a stretch mean a dish with bits of ham.
In the interests of investigative food journalism, I decided I needed to know more. Trekking through the internet I discovered a recipe called “Schinkenfleckerl,” aka “Ham Pasta,” which appears to be a very close cousin to grandma’s Schinkenflecken.
According to the website www.wein.info, “fleckerl” is a square-shaped pasta popular in Austria and the Czech Republic. Mix them up with ham cubes, sour cream and eggs and schinkenfleckerl is born.
Our recipe has always called for broad egg noodles, and I would suspect that the smaller fleckerl noodles (could they be obtained here) might make the dish denser.
For reasons not explained on the website, “Schinkenfleckerl” is also “the topic of a famous Viennese song from the 1930s.” Research on that factoid I’ll save for another day.
For our purposes here, however, the most important fact about Grandma Larson’s Schinkenflecken is that it uses up a full two cups of chopped ham, readily helping dispatch those leftovers.
In the event that these dishes do not finish off that ham, freezing is always an option: slices for sandwiches and Eggs Benedict; large chunks for Schickenflecken or other casseroles.