Cuisine – Ham glorious ham

The festive season is already underway and one of the luxuries of this time of year is the Christmas ham. It seems that a special birthday party, a wedding buffet or an extravagant end of year celebration is where we are most likely to see a large pink ham taking pride of place, glistening in all its glory.

Although the expense is large, ham is often the staple that will see the family through the holiday season. Once the main feast is over, there are endless ways to enjoy ham beyond the good old ham sandwich. It is the investment in the fridge that keeps on giving!

I think it is well worth seeking out the best ham you can. Look for a ham that’s not oozing too much moisture, often a sign there’s been rather too much water injected in the curing process to plump up the ham. Most butchers and supermarkets carry hams of all sizes to suit their customers, and I’d like to think that discerning diners would support our farmers who produce New Zealand raised pork.

Our family which is small, usually orders a half ham, and I prefer the ‘champagne’ ham, which despite its name, has nothing to do with that bubbly wine. It is a ham with almost all the bones removed, generally chunkier and rounder than the traditional ham on the bone, and much easier to carve into even slices.

Folk often ask why a cooked ham needs to be glazed. It is this step that makes ham really celebratory and adds crunchy interesting flavour. If you wish you can go all out, and decorate it with pineapple or orange slices, once the glaze is cooked onto the ham. When serving a ham I like to do the glaze about two or three hours before guests arrive. That way it is still warm and can be carved once eating commences.

Once the feasting is over, the best way to keep a ham fresh is to use a ‘ham bag.’ These are simple bags made from rough cotton with a convenient drawstring to keep the freshness in. A ham bag should be soaked in a mixture of warm water and half a cup of cider vinegar before being wrung out. Keep the ham in the bag in the refrigerator and every second day, take the ham from the bag, rinse the bag well and once again refresh it with water and vinegar.

Leftover ham makes for brilliant holiday season breakfasts. Cut slices quite thickly to fry gently alongside eggs, or if you’re feeling creative you can always whip up an impressive Eggs Benedict by tucking slices of ham under the poached eggs. Slice the ham into finger sized julienne strips and add them to salads, omelettes and cheesy pasta dishes. And there’s no doubt that having a ham in the fridge may be the best thing ever for midnight snacks for hungry revellers.

Glazed Christmas ham

1 cooked ham on the bone (6kg to 9kg)

For the garnish
3 tablespoons cloves

For the glaze
1 ¼ cups dark beer or orange juice
1 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cardamom
2 tablespoons English mustard powder

If your ham has a thick skin, that will need to be removed first. To a make this step easier, place the ham in a preheated 140°C oven for about 10 minutes, which will warm the ham and allow the skin and the fat underneath to separate. Carefully cut around the skin at the shank end of the ham, leaving about a little of the skin on the end of the bone, and using your fingers, work your way under the skin to loosen it, leaving a good coating of fat on the ham.

Use a very sharp knife to score the surface of the fat into small, even diamonds, cutting down no more than 1cm. Stick to cloves into the fat in an even pattern to decorate and add flavour. Place the ham in a large baking dish and pour over 1 cup of the beer or orange juice.

Slowly bake the ham in an oven preheated to 160˚C for about 10 minutes per kilogram (hams generally weigh between 6kg and 9kg).

About 15 minutes before the total cooking time is up, remove the ham from the oven and turn the heat up to 200˚C. Mix together the sugar, cardamom and mustard with the enough of the remaining beer or juice so it is moist but not runny. Spread this over the ham and return to the ham oven for the last 10-15 minutes so the skin is nicely glazed. You can turn up the upper element in your oven to get a good glaze but it’s important to watch it carefully so it doesn’t burn.

Allow to cool and slice as you need it. The ham can be prepared well ahead, but keep it refrigerated until just before serving.