What Is Schinken?

ham and deli meats
SrdjanPav / Getty Images

Der Schinken is a German masculine noun meaning "ham." There are many styles of ham in continental Europe, where pigs could be raised by feeding them on beechnuts and acorns in the forest (die Schweinemast). Cured ham has been produced since the Middle Ages, mostly for the tables of the rich, or for seafaring rations. Wealthier states (West Phalia) developed air cured hams, while poorer states such as Saxony and Selisia had less pork and ate it fresh.

One of the great mysteries of the world is how certain cuts of pork, especially air dried and cured hams, are created. The Germans have perfected several kinds of hams in addition to their creative sausages.

Fresh vs. Cured Ham

Ham is a term for the rear leg and back part of the pig, behind the loin and the belly, which is made into bacon. A ham can be fresh, which means uncured, or cured, dried, or smoked or a combination of the three.

Uncured ham is regular meat, like a roast, and turns gray when you cook it, whereas cured or smoked hams are pink or brown.

Uncured hams taste like pork (just like pork chops). They need to be salted to taste. Cured hams are already salty and bits of ham or the ham bone are often used to flavor other dishes.

A ham may be cured or smoked with the leg bone in it, but the bone is often removed before processing. If it is removed, the ham may be rolled or pressed into a round shape or a squared off loaf and is sometimes tied with string to hold it.

Types of German Ham

Sometimes the front shoulder is used to make a ham, which is then called a picnic ham or Vorderschinken in German (Vorder- indicates front and Schinken is the word for ham.).

Kochschinken, meaning ham for cooking, is the simplest type of ham and also the easiest to recreate at home. Kochschinken is cured, the Germans call is pickled or gepöckelt, either through injection of a water, pink salt, and spice mixture (common in industrial production) or by wet curing it with a brine of the same solution.

After curing for several days, the ham is boiled, then refrigerated for easy slicing. Sometimes it is smoked for just a few hours before or after boiling.

Famous ham styles which are similar to Kochschinken are American Country Ham, which must be cooked; sweet cured "city ham," the kind you find sliced in the deli section; spiral sliced boneless hams, which is just a method of cutting in a continuous piece; and canned ham, which has been cooked in the can and often covered in aspic.

Traditional Ham Meals

In Germany, sliced Kochschinken is used for asparagus dinners and to make belegte Brötchen (filled rolls or sandwiches) as well as in warm and cold noodle dishes. Cooking whole hams is relatively rare, it is more common to cook loins and roasts.