Glazed Christmas Ham
I’m sitting in Con’s sipping my fourth pint of the black stuff. I’m not a big drinker and with pint number four comes the merry feeling that only pints on Christmas Eve can give you. It’s a rather slow
walk stumble home with my Dad who is just as merry as me. Although it’s freezing cold there is a certain magic in the air, I can’t help but look to the sky to see if there’s a reindeer flying overhead. As we finally enter the estate, there is only one thing on both of our minds – Ham! My Mother always cooks the ham on Christmas Eve and if we enter quietly (a tough job considering the alcohol) we may be able to sneak enough for a sandwich without waking her up. Sure, there’ll be sharp words in the morning but it’ll be worth it. The warm ham melts the butter on the bread and for a couple of minutes we’re in silence, savouring every morsel of this wonderful treat that has now become tradition. As happy as can be, I stumble out to our little house in the garden and sleep soundly having had just a little teaser of the following days merriment.
Finding a good quality, ethically produced ham isn’t as easy as you may expect in Ireland. Our farming practices for pork leave an awful lot to be desired and the vast majority of hams will come from factory farmed pigs who lead the most miserable lives imaginable. Although a good proportion of people have now switched to higher welfare turkey for the Christmas table, the same unfortunately isn’t true for their ham. It can be done though. There are now many farmers offering free-range or organic pork with most producing the most wonderful hams for Christmas. For the past few years I have ordered direct from Pigs on the Green Free Range Pork who sell at Tullamore Farmers Market every Saturday. Apart from the obvious welfare issues, the difference between a ham like this and it’s factory farmed alternative is night and day. The free range ham has a deeper, more rounded flavour and remains succulent and moist after cooking. I also find the Pigs on the Green ham to be less salty in flavour with no need to soak it before cooking.
Although some people only bake their ham, I prefer to get an extra layer of flavour into the meat by poaching it first. Star anise, cinnamon and bay permeate the meat and give a lovely hint of warming Christmas flavours to the inside of the ham. My Mother cooks the ham first in cider before glazing but I prefer to simply use water with aromatics added. The ham needs to poach for approximately 40 minutes per kilo of meat but you can take all the guesswork out by picking up a cheap cooking thermometer. Stick it into the center of the joint and once it hits 74 degrees it’s cooked. Lot’s of supermarkets and homeware shops now sell inexpensive thermometers and it really is worth picking one up – your turkey will also be all the better for it.
3 Kg Free Range Ham
1 Onion (roughly chopped)
1 Leek (roughly chopped)
2 Carrots (roughly chopped)
2 Bay Leaves
2 Star Anise
1 Cinnamon Stick
1 tbsp Black Peppercorns
350g Demerara Sugar
1 tsp Dijon Mustard
1 tsp Honey
4 tbsp Spiced Rum
If your ham is of the salty variety (ask the butcher/producer) you may need to soak it overnight. Put the ham into a large pot, cover with water and let it soak for at least twelve hours, changing the water twice. You do not need to do this with all hams though so it is worth asking.
When ready to cook: Put the ham into a large pot and cover with fresh cold water. Add the onion, leek, carrot, bay, star anise, cinnamon and peppercorns and place over a medium heat. Cover the pan and bring to the boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer and cook for approximately 40 minutes per kilo of meat or until the middle of the ham registers 74 degrees C. on a thermometer.
Meanwhile make the glaze. Mix the demerara sugar, mustard, honey and rum together. Ensure to mix well so the flavours are evenly distributed. This will not be a runny glaze, it will be more like a thick paste.
Once the ham is cooked carefully remove it from the pot and place onto a baking dish (you can save and use the cooking liquor to reheat slices of ham, cook the sprouts or cook cabbage, beans, lentils etc.) Cut the twine holding it together and discard. With a sharp knife, carefully remove the skin but leave a decent layer of fat. Score the fat in a criss-cross pattern being careful not to cut into the flesh below. Stud each cross section with a clove before putting on the glaze. Don’t be too precious about the glaze, it is quite thick and may fall off the sides and back of the ham but as the top of it melts in the oven it will run down and cover these areas.
Put the ham into a pre-heated 180 degree oven and cook for 40 minutes, removing the pan and basting (use a spoon to pour the melted glaze from the dish back over the ham) every 10 minutes to ensure a sticky, golden top. Remove the ham from the oven and allow to rest for twenty minutes before serving.
The ham can be cooked a day or two in advance very successfully. Remove it from the oven and when cooled to room temperature, cover it and put it into the fridge. Before serving cut the ham into slices and lay on a baking sheet. Add just a little of the reserved ham cooking liquor, cover with tin-foil and put into a 150 degree oven for 30-40 minutes.
*Pigs on the Green Free Range Hams can be ordered via their facebook page HERE. I will be collecting mine a few days before Christmas, if anyone in Newbridge would like to order one but can’t get to Tullamore, I would be happy to collect it while getting mine. Drop me an email on firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange.
*This is NOT an affiliated or sponsored post. I promote Pigs on the Green along with other producers as I like their products and am happy with their farming and production methods. My aim is to always promote the best quality, local and ethically produced food.