How to Prepare Chinese Ham: A Culinary Guide

by Ella

Chinese ham, particularly the renowned Jinhua ham, is a traditional delicacy in Chinese cuisine. Known for its rich, savory flavor and aromatic profile, it is a key ingredient in many classic dishes. This article provides a comprehensive guide on how to prepare Chinese ham, including its history, types, preparation methods, and culinary uses.

Introduction to Chinese Ham

Historical Background

Chinese ham has a history that dates back over a thousand years. Originating from the region of Jinhua in Zhejiang Province, it has become a staple in Chinese gastronomy. The unique production process, which involves salting, air-drying, and aging, gives the ham its distinct flavor and texture.


Types of Chinese Ham

While Jinhua ham is the most famous, there are several other varieties, including:


Anfu Ham: Known for its tender texture and sweet flavor.


Rugao Ham: Characterized by its milder taste and shorter aging process.


Xuanwei Ham: Popular in southwestern China, with a robust and smoky flavor.

Each type of Chinese ham has its own unique characteristics, influenced by regional climates and traditional curing methods.

Selecting Quality Chinese Ham

Identifying Authentic Chinese Ham

When purchasing Chinese ham, it is essential to look for the following characteristics to ensure authenticity and quality:

Color: High-quality Chinese ham should have a uniform reddish-brown color.

Aroma: It should emit a strong, pleasant aroma, indicative of proper aging and curing.

Texture: The meat should be firm and dense, with a slight sheen from the fat.

Where to Buy

Chinese ham can be found in specialty Asian markets, gourmet food stores, or online retailers. Ensure you purchase from reputable sources to guarantee the best quality.

Preparing Chinese Ham

Initial Preparation

Before cooking with Chinese ham, some initial preparation steps are necessary to enhance its flavor and texture.


  • Soak the Ham: Place the ham in a large bowl and cover it with cold water. Soak for 24 hours, changing the water every
  • 4-6 hours. This process helps to reduce excess salt and rehydrate the meat.
  • Blanching: After soaking, blanch the ham by placing it in boiling water for 10 minutes. This step removes impurities
  • and further reduces saltiness.

Slicing Techniques

The way you slice Chinese ham depends on the dish you are preparing. Here are some common slicing techniques:

  • Thin Slices: Ideal for stir-fries and soups.
  • Cubes: Perfect for braised dishes and stews.
  • Strips: Suitable for fried rice and noodles.
  • Use a sharp knife to achieve clean, even cuts.

Cooking Methods


Steaming is a traditional method that preserves the natural flavor of the ham.

Preparation: Place the soaked and blanched ham in a steamer basket.

Steaming: Steam the ham for 2-3 hours until it is tender. Ensure the water level in the steamer is maintained throughout the process.

Serving: Serve the steamed ham with rice or use it as a flavorful addition to soups and casseroles.


Braising enhances the ham’s richness and integrates its flavor into the dish.

Ingredients: Combine Chinese ham with ingredients like soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and Shaoxing wine.

Braising Process: Simmer the ham and ingredients in a covered pot over low heat for 1-2 hours until the meat is tender and the flavors meld together.

Finishing Touches: Thicken the braising liquid with cornstarch if desired and serve over rice or noodles.


Stir-frying is a quick method that incorporates ham into various dishes.

Preparation: Slice the ham into thin strips or small cubes.

Cooking: Heat oil in a wok, add the ham, and stir-fry with vegetables, tofu, or other proteins. Season with soy sauce, oyster sauce, or chili paste.

Serving: Serve immediately with steamed rice or noodles.


Baking Chinese ham can create a crispy exterior while maintaining a juicy interior.

Marinade: Marinate the ham with a mixture of honey, soy sauce, and five-spice powder for at least 2 hours.

Baking Process: Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Place the ham on a baking tray and bake for 1-1.5 hours, basting occasionally with the marinade.

Serving: Let the ham rest before slicing and serving.

Culinary Uses

Soups and Broths

Chinese ham adds a deep umami flavor to soups and broths. Common dishes include:

Buddha Jumps Over the Wall: A luxurious soup with ham, abalone, sea cucumber, and other premium ingredients.

Double-Boiled Soup: A nourishing soup where ham is combined with Chinese herbs and slow-cooked for hours.

Rice and Noodles

Ham is a popular ingredient in rice and noodle dishes:

Fried Rice: Ham adds a savory depth to fried rice, complementing vegetables and eggs.

Noodle Soups: Sliced ham enhances the flavor of noodle soups, making them more satisfying.

Dim Sum and Appetizers

Chinese ham is often featured in dim sum and appetizers:

Ham and Shrimp Dumplings: These delicate dumplings combine the flavors of ham and shrimp.

Ham and Scallion Pancakes: Savory pancakes filled with ham and scallions make a tasty appetizer or snack.

Storage and Preservation

Storing Cooked Ham

Cooked Chinese ham should be stored properly to maintain its quality:

Refrigeration: Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Freezing: For longer storage, freeze the ham in portions. It can be stored in the freezer for up to three months.

Preserving Unused Ham

If you have unused Chinese ham, preserve it for future use:

Vacuum Sealing: Vacuum seal portions of ham to maintain freshness.

Dry Storage: If the ham is still whole and uncooked, store it in a cool, dry place, hanging it to allow air circulation.

Pairing Chinese Ham with Other Ingredients


Chinese ham pairs well with a variety of vegetables:

Bok Choy: The mild flavor of bok choy complements the savory taste of ham.

Asparagus: The crisp texture of asparagus provides a nice contrast to the tender ham.


Combine ham with other proteins for a balanced meal:

Chicken: Ham and chicken can be combined in stir-fries or braised dishes.

Seafood: Ham adds depth to seafood dishes, enhancing the flavors of shrimp, scallops, and fish.

Spices and Sauces

Enhance the flavor of Chinese ham with the right spices and sauces:

Five-Spice Powder: Adds a complex flavor profile that pairs well with ham.

Hoisin Sauce: Provides a sweet and savory glaze for baked or stir-fried ham.

Tips and Tricks

Enhancing Flavor

Marinating: Marinate ham with soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, and spices to deepen its flavor.

Aging: Allowing ham to age longer can intensify its taste, making it richer and more complex.

Cooking Techniques

Low and Slow: Cooking ham at low temperatures for extended periods ensures tenderness and flavor infusion.

Balancing Saltiness: If the ham is too salty, soak it longer or use it sparingly in dishes with other mild ingredients.

Creative Uses

Fusion Dishes: Incorporate Chinese ham into Western dishes like quiches, casseroles, and even pizzas for a unique twist.

Charcuterie Boards: Add slices of Chinese ham to charcuterie boards alongside cheeses, nuts, and fruits for an Asian-inspired appetizer.

See Also: Chinese Okra: Selecting, Preparing, Cooking Methods & Recipes


Preparing Chinese ham is an art that involves careful selection, proper preparation, and versatile cooking techniques. Whether you’re making a traditional Chinese dish or experimenting with fusion cuisine, Chinese ham can add a distinctive, savory depth to your meals. By following this comprehensive guide, you’ll be able to appreciate and master the preparation of this exquisite delicacy, bringing a taste of Chinese culinary heritage to your kitchen.



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