For the Love of Pig Leg

I'm either cheating on pork shoulder, or I've graduated to a new level of pig-love. Or both. For years, slow-roasting a pork shoulder (aka "picnic") was my fall-back plan for entertaining. But recently, I was seduced by the fresh ham. That is, the pig leg--uncured, unsmoked, similarly prepared, but requiring less time in the oven. As it turns out, my pig mentor, Bruce Aidells, author of Bruce Aidells's Complete Book of Pork (2004), also claims the fresh ham as his favorite. As he puts it, "This cut is packed with porky goodness." Amen to that, Bruce.

Aidells's method for this cut is simple. Make a rub, smear it on that ham, and stick it in the oven. And yes, the skin is left on, resulting in a shiny mahogany shell that crackles and oozes fat between your teeth. His rub has basil, thyme, rosemary, sage, cumin, coriander seeds, garlic, salt, pepper, and olive oil. I've adapted it successfully, out of laziness perhaps, and used fennel seeds, cumin, garlic, and rosemary, with delicious results.

A whole fresh ham (16-20 pounds) will feed more than 15 people, and costs around $3 per pound. You are more likely to find a half leg at most butchers, and it is wise to call ahead and make sure they have one, with the skin on!! But for instant gratification, head to Sandy's Lechoneria on East 116th street and have a crisp leg plucked from the window and hacked to pieces with what looks like a giant sword. (1/2 pound, $3.50, 1 pound, $6.50)

Sandy's Lechoneria 2261 2nd Avenue (212) 348-8654

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Look for fresh hams at your favorite butcher shops, or call one of our favorites. Frank's and Staubitz both carry fresh hams, but may need a heads up.

Frank's Chelsea Market 75 Ninth Avenue (212) 242-1234

Staubitz 222 Court Street Carroll Gardens (718) 624-0014

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