Pork leg

Other Names: Whole: Coscia or cosciotto (Italian), fillet end or knuckle end (British), fresh ham, jambon (French), half leg, pierna (Spanish). Cuts: Fresh ham steaks, knuckle or tip, sirloin roast, top round roast.

General Description: The large ham, or rear leg of the pig, is tops for robust flavor and satisfying texture. A whole roasted fresh ham (NAMP 401) is quite large and makes a perfect buffet dish for a big gathering. You may buy the leg with part of the shank removed, as a semi-boneless pork leg (with the hip bone removed) to make it easier to carve, or completely boneless. A buffet-style fresh ham has been trimmed, leaving the shank end bone clear for use as a handle when carving.

Pork leg three-way (NAMP 402G), sold to restaurants, is divided into the three major muscles called TBS (top, bottom, and side, also known as inside round, outside round, and knuckle), which can also be sold boneless. Some butchers sell individual muscles such as top round and top sirloin boned and rolled.

Pork tip, or knuckle, is a lean boneless cut from the tip portion, the front part of the leg above the kneecap also known as the forecushion. It is the most economically priced boneless cut. This darker muscle is perfect for slow simmering or slow braising for pot roasts. Many chefs dice it for soups and stews.

The inside round (NAMP 402F) is a boneless cut from the inside of the leg. This tender cut is an attractive pale gray-pink color and is quite versatile. It makes an easy-to-carve roast and can be used for cutlets, kabobs, satay, stews, terrines, and ragouts. The outside round is the outer or bottom muscle of the pork leg trimmed until it is practically free of fat. It is an economical boneless cut whose toughness is good for slow roasting. Rear leg shanks (NAMP 417A) are the lower portion of the leg, below the knee joint.

Part of Animal: Pork leg, or fresh ham, is the hind leg, the same cut that is made into a cured and/or smoked ham. It contains the knuckle, top round, bottom round, and shank, depending on how it is cut.

Characteristics: A whole ham contains many different muscles with different amounts of fat and qualities of tenderness. In general, it is a lean cut that is relatively tender and can be cooked by roasting. A half ham from the butt end is more tender and tasty than one from the shank.

How to Choose: A whole pork leg must be specially ordered; though extremely large for a family roast, it is also relatively inexpensive. Have the butcher remove the aitchbone for ease of carving. A BRT (boned, rolled, and tied) leg roast weighs 6 to 12 pounds.

Amount to Buy: Allow 3/4 to 1 pound per person for bone-in leg, 1/2 to 3/4 pound for boneless ham. A whole leg weighs about 22 pounds.

Storage: Refrigerate a whole fresh ham up to 3 days; up to 4 days if marinated.


  1. Rub a paste of herbs, garlic, salt, and pepper over the exposed meat of the ham, including the inside if it has been boned. Cut small gashes into the skin and fill them with the paste.
  2. Roast skin side up (if there is skin) or fat side up (if the skin has been removed) at 450°F for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 325°F and continue to roast for about 4 hours, or until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 150°F at its thickest point.
  3. Remove from the oven, cover with foil, and allow to rest for 30 to 45 minutes, for the temperature to even out and the juices to be reabsorbed. The temperature will continue to rise about 5°F.
  4. Make a pan sauce, if desired, from the drippings in the pan. Pour off the drippings and ladle off the fat (there will be a lot). Add stock to deglaze the pan. Transfer the liquid to a small saucepan and add wine, stock, or water. Strain and thicken lightly with a little cornstarch mixed with water.
  5. Carve the ham into slices and serve with the sauce.

Flavor Affinities: Bay leaves, cloves, cranberries, cumin, fennel seeds, oranges, oregano, shallots, thyme, white wine.

from Quirk Books: