You can’t have Christmas without a Christmas ham. This recipe works with ANY sized joint. Multiply it up and down as you see fit and as suits you. I think ham makes a wonderful Christmas feast. This recipe makes a delicious sweet, salty, softly textured ham that’s fabulous hot with creamy mashed potatoes, or cold with chutneys and cheeses and a hunk of crusty bread. I always cook one the week before Christmas, and always end up having to cook another one because it gets scoffed! This spiced and glazed Christmas ham is poached in Coke, and you really can’t underestimate the delicious, caramel sweetness that it infuses into the meat. It’s better for your ham than your teeth, that’s for sure.
Choosing your ham (or gammon, to be precise)
What’s the difference? Well essentially, gammon is what ham is before it’s cooked – it’s generally wet cured in brine, however dry curing is thought to give a better result. Again, it’s up to you.
When choosing a Christmas gammon joint I’d recommend going to a good butcher. I know supermarkets have them in, but butchers get really good quality meat, and you know how I feel about poor intensively farmed piggies. Be vocal. Ask where the meat has come from. This is not the time of year to have every bite sticking in your throat with guilt. Choose a pig that lived a happy life and had a humane ending. You’ll feel better for it. If you’re choosing in a supermarket, though, look out for the Red Tractor logo – a sure sign of decent quality meat.
I prefer smoked gammon, which has a more intense flavour, but go with what you fancy.
Spicing and poaching
Spicing your gammon as you simmer it infuses wonderful flavour into the meat. It also makes the kitchen (and the whole house) smell fantastic – a big part of Christmas cooking as far as I’m concerned. While this was cooking, there were suddenly drooling teenagers wandering around the kitchen. It’s just what happens.
You can poach your gammon in all sorts of different liquids. We prefer Coke which imbues a gorgeous depth and sweetness, but cider works really well, as does apple juice. You can even just use water.
With the spices, just think Christmas. Again, this bit is personal preference. Leave things out if you don’t have them, or add something a bit different if you like.
Glazing and roasting
Glazing adds a gorgeous, sticky finish and an incredible amount of flavour. Again, the glaze can be as simple or as complicated as you like. Years ago, I used to make it really complicated, with marmalade, sherry, even chilli, but now I just go for the juice and zest of an orange, a couple of tablespoons of honey and a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar. If you like a bit of zing, grate in some fresh ginger too, or add a teaspoon or two of mustard.
The final roasting allows the meat to suck up all those gorgeous flavours and gives it a lovely sticky finish. If you stick a pan with some water in the bottom of the oven, it shouldn’t dry out too much. Whatever sized joint, it won’t take more than 3o mins – after all, it’s already cooked.
Anyhoo, here’s my version:
Spiced and glazed Christmas ham
1 smoked gammon joint – anywhere from 800g to 8kg
1 large onion
1 cinnamon stick, snapped
1 tsp Szechuan peppercorns (or black peppercorns if you don’t have them)
2 or 3 star anise
1 tsp cumin seeds
3 or 4 cardamom pods
4 or 5 cloves
Small piece of dried ginger (or fresh)
2 bay leaves
Coca Cola (not diet), cider, or water (enough to cover)
For the glaze:
1 orange or clementine, juice and zest
2-3 tablespoons brown sugar
2-3 tablespoons honey
Grating of fresh ginger or a teaspoon of mustard
Pop the gammon joint into a nice, big saucepan (make sure you have a lid to fit), cover with the Coca Cola, then pop in the spices, plus a large onion.
Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently (JUST bubbling) for 30 minutes per 500g. This one here is quite small, only 800g, so I did it for just under an hour – you don’t have to be too precise.
When the time’s up, allow to cool (you need to handle it and frankly, we could all do without third degree burns at Christmas), then remove the rind. Leave on some of the fat. If you want to, you can do the traditional diamond shaped scoring, dotting each intersection with a clove.
Preheat the oven to 180/gas 4.
Place all your glaze ingredients in a saucepan and stir until just combined. Place the joint on a baking tray and brush over about a third of the glaze. If you don’t want to mess about with a glaze, just spoon over a couple of tablespoons of runny honey.
Bake for about ten minutes, then remove and glaze again.
Bake for another ten minutes, then remove and cover with the rest of the glaze. Give it ten more minutes and you’re done.
This ham will keep for up to a week wrapped well in the fridge, but I doubt it will last that long!