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.
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.
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.
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.
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.