Festive Ham in Ginger Beer & Spiced Cider

Making a ham are you? A nice festive ham? Got a bottle of cola and a bay leaf at the ready?

Well stop that right now. It being the season of goodwill, I have arrived just in time to bring you a new way of preparing your festive gammon, for ‘tis sure to fill your guests with delight, and joy, and some cement.

The Demon Gin, ham cooked in ginger beer, ham cooked in spiced cider, gammon recipe

Nothing really says Christmas to me like a well spiced, roasted piece of a pig. Back when my parents were being much better at not being dead, mother used to roast up the biggest ham known to mankind on Christmas Eve, so we could devour it in sandwiches or with that traditional Irish dish, champ (mashed potato with scallions – it works).

For a few years, I tried to replicate mum’s methods in my own home. She had a fairly simple process – boil the ham twice in water (throwing out the first lot of water to decrease the saltiness of said gammon), using bay leaves, peppercorns and onion in the stock, then roast it up with sugar pressed into the top layer of fat. Ma’s was cooked for a long time so that it was tender enough to pull apart but could still hold its shape when sandwich time came.
Then came Nigella, and her famous method of cooking the meat in full fat coke before covering it in treacle and sugar. A fine method, and one now beloved by millions, but not one of my favourites. A little too sweet and sticky for my tastes. 
But I’ve cranked it up a notch.
I discovered this method by accident. I was making my Christmas Eve ham using up various liquids and flavourings left in the fridge, and threw in half a bottle of Old Jamaican Ginger Beer and the remains of a decent French cider. Never before had my ham tasted so good.

Ginger beer adds another depth of flavour to the ham – a little bit sweet, but spiked with heat without being overpowered by the flavour of ginger root. Add in other spices, and you get a ham so fine that Santa himself will come to your house and try to put it in his massive sack.
So here is my method for cooking up a great festive ham. As ever, these are guidelines only and do not take into account any allergies or food intolerances, so please cook this at your own risk.
Also, I prefer smoked gammon and before I prepare the cooking liquor, I boil the joint in plain water and then discard the water to reduce the saltiness. Not essential, but probably wise. Leave the rind on when boiling it and for the love of GOD leave the meat tied up. I made the mistake of removing the string pre-boil once, and ended up with ham soup.
Quantities will depending entirely on the size of your meat and how big your boiling pot is. I’ve overestimate quantities here so you have extra if needs be. If you run out of all the wet ingredients, just top up with water.
You will need:

  • 1 litre of spiced cider – you can buy bottles of this everywhere, and I recommend Kent’s own Monk’s Delight. Anything spice, or marked as ‘mulled cider’, will be good. If you can’t find spiced cider, good quality medium cider will do.
  • 1 litre of good quality ginger beer – I swear by Old Jamaican Ginger Beer, but there are many varieties out there. Even the alcoholic ones wouldn’t go a miss. Stay away from the sugar free varieties, they have no place here, and we are not talking about ginger ale. Ginger beer only.
  • A large carton apple juice – to top up the liquor (nothing fancy required)
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 clementines
  • 1 tsp All spice
  • A squeezy bottle of runny honey
  • Two handful of Demerara sugar
  • A lot of tin foil
Place your gammon in as big a pot as you can find with the spices. Cover with equal measures of cider & ginger beet until it is 3/4 covered, then top up with apple juice (and water if needed). Squeeze in the juice the clementines, and throw the squeezed out fruit in too.

The Demon Gin, ham cooked in ginger beer, ham cooked in spiced cider, gammon recipe

The Demon Gin, ham cooked in ginger beer, ham cooked in spiced cider, gammon recipe

My meat is never completely covered by the liquor – one end often bobs above the liquor line. In which case, I gently turn the meat over in the juice once while it’s cooking so all of it gets doused in the punchy flavours.

Bring the meat to the boil, then let it simmer gently for at least 3 hours. Work out an hour per kilo if you’ve got a giant pig on your hands – you don’t want to rush this stage, so give yourself a good few hours to get this right. If you have time, once cooked you can leave the meat to sit in the liquor overnight to soak in more flavour, but it’s not essential.

When you are ready to roast, remove the ham from the liquor and let it cool a little so you can handle it. Place it in either a disposable foil tray, or line a metal one with two or three layers of foil – this will save you the hassle of killing yourself later on when you can’t remove burnt sugar from your favourite roasting pan.
Sometimes, the gammon doesn’t want to sit upright in the pan. If this happens, I prop it up with spare root veg as best I can so the top gets a proper roasting

When ready to handle, carefully remove the rind from the meat with a sharp knife, leaving a good layer of white fat on the top. You can’t call it a festive ham unless it has cloves (you can try, but people will laugh at you). We all know what to do here – score the fat with a sharp knife to make diamond shape across the fat, then stud each diamond point with cloves.

The Demon Gin, ham cooked in ginger beer, ham cooked in spiced cider, gammon recipe

How you want to baste/glaze your ham is up to you, but I cover it with runny honey (if you ham is too hot, the honey will melt quickly so best to do this with a cooler ham) and then pat the crunchy sugar on top until the fat is covered with honey and sugary goodness.

The Demon Gin, ham cooked in ginger beer, ham cooked in spiced cider, gammon recipe
The Demon Gin, ham cooked in ginger beer, ham cooked in spiced cider, gammon recipe
The Demon Gin, ham cooked in ginger beer, ham cooked in spiced cider, gammon recipe
The Demon Gin, ham cooked in ginger beer, ham cooked in spiced cider, gammon recipe

Stick it in a hot oven (around 220C) and roast for 20mins or until the top is bubbling and caramelised to your liking. I like mine black, black like my heart.

Remove from the oven and stare at it in wonder. Then eat all of it instantly, with mashed potatoes or thick slices of bread.

Or serve it to your guests, whatever.

Merry Christmas, you Christmas cats.

Be warned: Christmas trees

I warned you that I cannot accept all Christmas traditions and fancies. Didn’t I warn you? Don’t say I didn’t warn you, because I did.

So let’s begin with the thing most of you having been fretting over for weeks. Real Christmas trees.
Before you say anything, SHUT UP people who have been to my house recently. Yes, I have a real potted living tree in my living room but this is only because the previous home owners left a very nice one in the garden for us, so I’m obliged to dress it and tend to it. And to be fair, this one seems unwilling to die or wilt, not matter how much wine I feed it when I get lonely.
The Demon Gin, Canterbury Blog
My tree. Up close it looks much, much worse
But let no one labour under the illusion that I find anything acceptable about decorative perennials. No, no, let us be very clear about this – you are dragging an insect-infested, sap-spewing, neurotic woodland corpse into your home. And you’re making your children touch it.
Sold from dubious car yards by bastards with gold teeth (the kind of men who cackle loudly when hacking the trees into shape, willing them to squeal), these trees turn even the most rational person into a gibbering wreck. We ignore them ten months out of the year, but they become the most important thing in the fucking world mid-November. Hours are spent deliberating over the best length and girth as though it’s some kind of festive penis. Furniture is burned and relatives are sold to make room for their arrival. Garden centres have to employ cave trolls to battle the hordes of maniacs trying to snap up the last 8ft spruce.

Perhaps the biggest example of idiocy is when you bury your nose in the branches of your chosen tree and drone “ohhhh the divine smell!”

It’s a tree. A TREE. There are thousands of them outside right now, I will wager that none of you feel compelled to hurl your face into the nearest oak while muttering “it’s like Christmas in my lungs”.
If the purchasing process wasn’t scrotum pulling enough, getting the bundle of sticks home is a hassle wrapped in a migrane dipped in cancer. Be they bound up in netting like a budget domantrix doll, or tied to your roof with your belt, shoelaces and knickers, the message is clear – they don’t want to come to your house. Leave them alone! Stop forcing it! You’re acting like a middle aged man with a bag of sweets and a homemade dungeon.
And when you get them home, the tree turns into a snivelling hypochondriac – it’s too hot, it’s too cold, they need more water, but not too much water, oh don’t put me near the heater, you know what, just put me back outside, I just need a little air, it’s chilly out here get me some tinsel!!!The second you put a foot wrong in its general care, it sheds half its needles akin to a dog pissing itself at the sound of a hoover.

When Christmas Day arrives, it just stands there in the corner like a distant relative’s fat teenage son, depressed and listless, hurling glass baubles to the floor every few minutes in a bid for attention. Yet you still fuss, and coo, and make people look at it. Until the day after Boxing Day, when you will literally hurl it on to the street and complain every day that you can still see it until the bin men finally drag it away.

The only reason you buy real trees is to look just a little bit posh and to sniff derisively at your commoner friends with plastic ones.
I can make my peace with plastic trees. Yes, they are the McDonalds of the tree world, unrepentant in their bushy glory and with a long life that has come at the expensive of the pandas. Yes they won’t ever die, and will probably rise up and destroy us at some point. But they’re just….eh, they’re just easier.

Still not convinced? Then look at these terrible trees (courtesy of http://www.thatslikewhoa.com) All of your trees are worse.  

Tis the season

Cometh the festive season. The winter solstice, Saturnalia, Advent, Yalda, Watch Night….Shark Week. Jolly people are putting on ludicrous jumpers, wrapping gifts and throttling fatted geese with strings of musical fairy lights. Others are slamming their doors on carolers, and punching reindeer in the face.

All, one way or another, in the spirit of Christmas.

I suppose I’d better get this out of the way, for it reveals the rarely seen fluffy side of me…I do not mind Christmas time and intend to embracing it this year in all its twinkling glory!……….
……..Obviously I’m not embracing ALL of it, don’t be ridiculous. I respect traditions of the festive season, and have no problem with them being in my line of sight, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Sigh. But that’s just the problem – this is what Christmas is trying to do to me..
Christmas is like a terribly appreciative and slightly rebound relationship: I’m okay with it, I don’t mind showing my affection for it in public, there’s nothing technically wrong with it. But…eeeehhhhhhhh. It wants to move in with me and invest in matching onesies. It’s always showing me other people’s pictures of their Yuletide love on Facebook. It huffs that we really should have dressed the tree by now ‘like all our friends have done’. It wants to watch Kirsty fucking Alsop make shitty herb cushions that not even Tories want.

I just want to ease into it, and see where things go. But now I stand in themed shops, sweaty and wide eyed in front of sets of 40 bulb fairy lights and 200 bulb ones, too afraid to commit to the higher level of electricity and too nervous to face the Christmas wrath of all and sundry for not having enough tiny lights. 
Christmas is all a bit of a big step for me. I’ve been out of the game for a few years, emotionally, having been hurt rather badly in the past. At first it was just a bit of a sad time as, being Irish and Catholic, someone would have inevitably up and died in the previous year so that on Christmas Day, we would have to stop and sigh every eight minutes: “Aaaaccchh they would have loved all this wrapping paper”. My mum and dad have both passed away, so my sister and I inevitably spend a sizeable part of Christmas with our partners’ family, as is only fair. And the deeper hurt I speak of sprung from the years spent celebrating with my ex in-laws.

Chrstmas, The Demon Gin, Canterbury Blog

Mum, me and my sister in Kent.
For all I know, this was taken in March. But let’s pretend it’s Christmas

Now don’t get me wrong, these were  nice people who were kind and welcoming and were just doing things their way….but they didn’t quite grasp the legally binding obligation to eat and drink constantly on Christmas Day. Now I can appreciate that no one will ever give me the same level of complete indulgent laziness that my darling departed mother and father afforded me….but come the fuck on. TWO roast potatoes per person?! ONE round of turkey, and just the two bottles of red (for the love of cat tits) on the table? And where were the leftover sandwiches in time for Doctor Who? I don’t CARE if everyone is still full, you have to have extra sandwiches!!!! Served with chocolate biscuits. And a pot of Stilton. And a tube of Pringles. And dates – I don’t even like dates, but by GOD I will eat them, so help me I will eat them……..why isn’t Doctor Who on? W…why isn’t the TV on at all. Oh my God.

I know, I know. They meant well. Not everyone is a glutton, like me. But they weren’t poor. And one year, one in-law bought me a single bottle of olive oil as a present. A bottle. Of olive oil.
The cycle of death and having to restrain myself at Christmas dinner did leave a sour taste in my mouth for a few years. But things are fairing better these days. With the new beau comes much lovelier ‘in-laws’, who truly make me feel like family by stuffing me so full of food and drink that I can see through time. And even in the darkest years, I would still get a grasp of indulgence when my sister and I met for our mini-Xmas get together. I remember turning up on her doorstep after one particular barren Christmas Day in middle England, to find her nodding sympathetically, a rack of lamb in each hand. I wept.

This year, I am hosting the Hanna orphan’s annual festival of feasting with me, sis, bro-in-law and my beau, but this year has an added element of excitement: I have a three-year-old nephew to play with. Leo is at the perfect Xmas age – old enough to be mesmerized by it, articulate enough to talk about it, and young enough to be hilarious when trying to express himself through dance. It’s true that kids really do make the season brighter (N.B this affection extends only my direct family. I hate other people’s kids and their wide-eyed wonderment, and they should keep away from me).
Awesome Star Wars Boy,The Demon Gin, Canterbury Blog

My nephew has just discovered Star Wars.

You have NO idea what this means for my people.

And with these thoughts of family fun and obesity in mind, I find there is plenty more that I love about Christmas. Decorations make me happy – the twinkle of white lights (no colours, heathen), dressed windows and bushy green garlands. And the joy of cooking itself. It is that wonderful time of year when you can boil wine and not be accused of planning to use it to storm Leeds Castle. This is a season to get loud in the kitchen, for no one will judge you for it. I shall return to my own foodie exploits in later blogs but for now, go and create your own splendour! Take pictures of your accomplishments and forcibly shove them in your friends’ faces with a shovel!

As I said, I can’t embrace every Christmas tradition. There are things that I will literally burn if they approach me – and I will detail one or two soon. But all in all…maybe I can get the hang of this season. I think I’m ready to commit.

These took six hours to put up

Maybe it’s time to buy a Christmas jumper.