Monday, March 24, 2008

Baked Ham for Easter

Sun 23 Mar 2008

Oh, it's been a very long time between posts ... a result of too much eating, drinking and holidaying and not enough writing. Unfortunately, a lot of very tasty food has not been photographed (that's the drinking coming in!) but Easter has presented me with an opportunity to get back on track.

On Thursday I came straight home from work and got stuck into making hot cross buns. As I use the same recipe every year (it was only after that I thought maybe I should have tried something new) this is a steady, predictable exercise. I also always feel soooo smug when, on Good Friday, I can just whisk the buns from the fridge to the oven: no hassle at all! This year I just made 8 enormous buns which we polished off in the space of two days.

For Easter dinner suggested a baked ham. I don't think I've even eaten baked ham before, let alone made one. Of course, the internet came to the rescue with this recipe for a ham glazed with maple syrup. Baked hams tend to be billed as Christmas fare but, now that I have actually made one, I'd put it as a very versatile dish. The meat can be eaten hot or cold, and it can be fully or partially prepared a couple of days in advance.

We bought about 2kg of gammon from the market (setting us back £8) and when I got it home I realised I would be lucky to fit it in any of my pots. Fortunately, with some coaxing, I managed to squish the ham, half an onion studded with cloves, 3 juniper berries, half a stick of cinnamon, 2 star anise, some bay leaves, a small handful of peppercorns AND 250mL of dry cider all into my largest stove-top friendly pot.

Not being a cider drinker I wasn't sure what 'dry cider' was and had to spend a little while in the supermarket reading labels. In the end, I plumped for Thatcher's Single Varietal Katy (that's the type of apple) cider. Although the back label said 'dry' (and its hefty alcohol content left me hoping plenty of sugar had been fermented out) I found it more 'off-dry' BUT surprisingly good. Very light and crisp - like an apple, with just a hint of fizz, and deceptively non alcoholic.

So, while I was drinking the cider, the ham was bubbling away on the stove. You need about 20 minutes per 500g of meat, so an hour - an hour and a half later I turned off the stove, and pulled the ham out on to a plate to cool, before going in the fridge until Sunday.

The final cooking of the ham is simple. Using a sharp knife, remove the ham's skin, leaving a good layer of fat. Score the fat and rub into the whole ham a mixture of 1 1/2 tsp each of mustard powder and ground ginger. At this point you are meant to stud the scored fat with cloves. I would only bother doing this if you have a large enough ham that can stand with its fat upright in the baking dish. This way, the clove flavour should go through the fat and permeate the meat. However, because our piece of meat was quite small, I found this step redundant in terms of anything but decoration.

The final step is to make the glaze: 75mL of maple syrup and 15 mL of balsamic vinegar mixed together and brushed over the ham. Bake in an oven preheated to 180C for about half an hour - 40 minutes. Baste the ham as it cooks. The original recipe suggests sprinkling golden caster sugar over your ham before baking: unless you're serving this dish to die hard sweettooths, I wouldn't bother. The maple syrup is both sweet and glossy: you don't need to overdo a good thing.

We served with roast potatoes and carrots. And a bottle of 2006 Grosset Polish Hill riesling from South Australia's Clare Valley. Jeff Grosset's wines used to have (and probably still do) something of a cult status in South Australia: wine shops, and even the cellar door, would sell out quickly. On this side of the world, it seems to be considerably easier to come across (although I think I paid around £17 for the bottle, so it's not cheap). If you're used to drinking Alsatian or German rieslings, Clare Valley ones might require a bit of effort. This is a seriously dry wine, with loads of lime on the palate, mouthwatering acidity and a really hard, mineral edge - drinking well now but you certainly don't need to rush it if you're lucky enough to have a few bottles tucked away. The nose, while laden with lime, has some of the honey you'd associate with the grape, but also the kerosene (yes, rather than petrol) that is so typical of Clare. I think the difference between a Clare and an Alsatian riesling is a great example of typicity and also the way in which terroir and wine making techniques affect the finished product.

On the one hand you might think that such a dry wine would be a less than perfect match for a dish basted in maple syrup. However, the maple syrup was balanced by the saltiness of the ham, and what the wine really needed to do cut through the fat and richness of the meat. So of course, a dry, high acid wine was perfect for that. Having said that, the Grosset is such a lovely wine that I'd be more than happy to just drink it on its own.

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Blogger Silverback said...

Hi Andy, found your great site by chance (how often does THAT happen ?) and will be a regular reader.

We had Easter ham yesterday for the first time ever even though it IS traditional in the US where I'm coming to the end of my winter trip. Good to read about your experiences.

Just one tiny point. You've got the date wrong at the top of the post. Yesterday was 23rd.


3:35 pm  
Blogger William Leigh said...

i always end up drinking what I'm supposed to be cooking with. Planning on doing a ham soon - maybe with a marmalade glaze. It's a bit daunting though, I'm a little nervous about ruining a great piece of meat - will give it a try now though.

8:11 am  
Blogger Alex said...

Thanks Silverback ... I'll update the date!!! I'm glad you've enjoyed the site.

Theboydonefood - we did find our ham quite salty, so one thing you may want to consider is giving the meat a soak in some clear water before starting on the cooking. Good luck with your ham though!

1:14 pm  
Blogger kaley said...

I so wanted a baked ham for Easter lunch but didn't think about it until Friday at about 6pm... Alas. Luckily, there was a vegetarian pot-luck with some creative vegans involved. Thanks for this though as I was nervous about what exactly to do with it (it is one of those things that just ended up on the table when I was growing up - grandmother's culinary magic + young child distracted by large amounts of chocolate). I'll definitely give it a try!

9:57 pm  
Blogger Alex said...

Hi Kaley ... I think there's no need to be nervous! Especially as you can cook the ham over several days, or even entirely in advance, you can plan to make it a stress free experience!

8:57 pm  

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