Saturday, September 15, 2007

Adventures with Ham...

It was with a certain level of nonchalance that I announced I was planning to cook a ham for my birthday party a few weeks ago. Perfect buffet fare, I decided. What could be better? As the date of the party drew near, it dawned on me that I had never actually cooked a ham. I'd cooked a few smaller joints, sure, but never a huge, Christmas-size slab of pig before.

I say Christmas-size because it is Christmas with which I most associate ham. We eat glazed ham every Christmas Eve, cooked by my mother and served with Cumberland sauce (which I detest and have done all my life but no-one seems to remember this fact). So I decided to call in the expert. I phoned my mother and asked how she cooks hers. All sounded relatively straight-forward so I took heart and rang one of my two local butchers; Moen. There followed a somewhat daunting list of questions - how big? smoked or non? Actually, I think there were just the two questions but I was unable to answer either. As for smoking, I eventually decided not due to the glaze and flavours in which I was planning to cook the beast. As for size - pretty big but it had to fit in my largest pot. Being as yet un-married (one lives in hope!) and young-ish, I have yet to acquire all the kitchen equipment I desire!

The very nice man at Moen was unfazed by my hopeless dithering and told me to bring my pan to the shop. I duly did as asked and then watched in amazement and he managed to squeeze a ham into a pot half the size. This took a wee bit of cutting to size but mainly he just tied it up very tightly and pushed it in. Genius.

Then came the moment where I had to pay. I nearly fell over when I heard the price, but after all his efforts I could hardly change my mind. I handed over the card, all the while steadying myself with one hand on the counter.

I raced home with my ham-filled pot and left the beastie to soak in water overnight. I poured myself a large gin and tonic to steady the nerves after the payment-shock-incident.

The next morning I poured off the water, refilled the pan with clean water and bought it to the boil before changing the water once again. I tasted a tiny sliver of meat from the outside to see if it was still salty - it was perfect. Step one, a success.

Next up, boiling the ham prior to baking. Into the water went: one onion chopped in half, one carrot, one celery stick, peppercorns, parsley stalks, a bouquet garni and 2 bay leaves.

Bring the water slowly to the boil and then simmer gently for 30 minutes per lb (25 mins. per lb for joints over 3 lb).

Drain the ham (reserving the delicious stock for soups) and when strip off the skin. This is easier than it sounds, I discovered. I literally pulls off. Leave a good covering of fat on top of the joint.

At this stage in the game, I was somewhat distressed when my light bulb decided to end its life. I scrabbled around looking for another and I was all out of bayonet blubs. It was dark, I was in the midst of important work! Help. With nowhere to place a lamp, the only solution was to light candles around the kitchen! Quite a strange sight, I can assure you. My next major problem was that as I lifted the joint out of the pan, I dropped the whole thing on the floor, causing it to fall apart. I have to confess that tears came to my eyes as I saw my priceless beauty hit the floor. I picked it up and tried to piece it back together and decided not to tell anyone (but of course, did tell everyone!).

Next I made a glaze by mixing together the following ingredients (quantities are for a 4lb joint. Mine was much larger so I adjusted accordingly - you need enough to cover the top of the joint)

4 tbsp soft brown sugar
Juice and rind of 1 orange
Large pinch of mace

I smothered this all over the top of the joint and then poured cider (1/2 pint for 4lb ham) into the roasting tin. I baked in the oven for 30 minutes at 180C.

The kitchen filled with a glorious spicy fug: it smelt like Christmas. Bliss.

Sliced up the next day and served with some of the glorious cidery, orangey juices, it was quite delicious. The orangey flavour seemed to have travelled right the way through the meat despite the short time in the oven.
Was it worth the money? In short, yes. I over-catered on a grand scale. This ham would have fed around 40 people, I reckon. I was eating it for days afterwards and even gave a huge chunk to a neighbour. Ham sandwiches, ham salad, ham with eggs - you name it, I ate it! The best 'leftover ham' dish I created though was a delicious ham and courgette pasta dish.

I softened a few onions, garlic and some sliced courgettes in a pan. I then added a little ham stock and white wine which I reduced. A heaped teaspoon of Dijon mustard and a good swirl of double cream at the end. A quick bubble and then in with the cooked pasta. Absolutely delicious!


Hippolyra said...

I remember my first ham experience. Along the same lines "perfect for a buffet" I thought, "perfect for the 14 people that are coming to my flat prior to a ball"

I then remembered I had not cooked one before!

Antonia said...

Yes - I think I should have thought it out a bit better before deciding upon it! However, it was delicious and I won't hesitate to make it again (this time hopefully without dropping it on the floor..)