Such a Ham!
As Thanksgiving is tied to the turkey, for a lot of people, Christmas is all about the ham. Of course, you can buy a pre-glazed, pre-cooked, “heat-and-serve” ham, it’s a lot more fun to roast and glaze your own. The time toll on it is reasonably small, especially the part when you actually have to pay attention to the ham, and with the sales around Christmastime, the financial aspect is also quite pleasurable.
What kind of ham you use is all up for your choice. The two main types of ham are wet-cured or “city” ham or dry-cured or “country” ham. Dry-cured hams tend to have a more robust flavor, and need soaking before roasting: if you opt to go this route, be sure to have your ham on hand at least two days before Christmas. Soak the ham in a large container where you can completely cover it with the cold water. If you see salt crystals on the outside of the ham, you will need to change the water every 4-6 hours to ensure all excess salt will be washed out from the ham. Even with soaking, dry-cured hams tend to be more salty than wet-cured ones. Using wet-cured hams, you can entirely skip this part, as soaking it would wash all the flavor out of the ham.
To feed everyone on your guest list, consider getting about 1-1.5 pounds of ham per person if you’re getting a bone-in ham; about 1/2-1 pound is sufficient from boneless hams. Also take into consideration if you’re serving other meats, like turkey, a roast or a leg of lamb – this way you can somewhat reduce portions, however, it’s always better to have plenty of food and leftovers than running out of food mid-party.
When buying your ham, also pay attention to what the label describes it as. “Ham With Natural Juices” contains no added water, hence you practically get all meat. “Ham With Added Water” can contain up to 5% of a water/salt solution, and if you are on a budget, it’s probably your best choice. With prices as low as 95 cents a pound, it’s hard to beat, and to be honest, the taste difference, especially with a good glaze, is subliminal. However, do beware of “Ham and Water Product” – this one has no regulations whatsoever on how much water it may contain; which can very probably mean you’re buying mostly water in ham-price. There is also the option of canned hams like DAK or Duboque: these are generally ground and shaped ham patties in a large format. While they generally taste all right, they lack the texture of “real” ham, which I personally miss from them a lot.
For the purpose of this recipe, I used a wet-cured, bone-in half ham (with added water). With this one, the only preparation needed was to unwrap it from the shrink plastic. Don’t forget to remove the little plastic cap that covers the bones: its duty to keep the marrow from escaping the bone during transportation is over.
Because of the glazing, I prefer to use a single-use foil roasting pan for my ham. Nothing breaks the festive spirit like scrubbing burnt-down honey from a pan for hours at an end; so do yourself a favor, and invest into one (your local dollar store probably carries them). Place the foil pan over a large cookie sheet for support, then put the ham in it, with the fattier side facing up. This way, the juices will flow down and into the meat rather than form a puddle of grease at the bottom.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees, move the rack if necessary to accommodate the height of the ham, cover the meat with foil, and start calculating. Wet-cured ham takes 15-20 minutes per pound to bake, while with dry-cured ham, this time can inch up to 20-25 minutes. Once you have your total roasting time, split it in half and set your timer. Put the ham in to roast, and you have free time until your timer beeps to trim the tree, deck the halls, roast chestnuts or or go on a sleigh ride. Just leave yourself a few minutes to prepare a delectable glaze!
For that, start with combining equal parts of dark brown sugar and honey in a bowl – for a 10-pound ham, I used about 3/4 cup of each, packing down the sugar in the cup. A trick to make this easier is to dip your measuring cups in hot, almost boiling water before measuring the honey – this way the honey gets softer on the parts touching the walls, and will slide out of the cup like a charm.
Stir it completely smooth, removing all lumps from the sugar. If it’s hard to stir, just pop the bowl in the microwave for 5-10 seconds to soften up all ingredients. Now, to add some depth and intensity to the flavors, add about 1 tablespoon each of barbecue sauce, mustard and Worchestershire sauce. The BBQ sauce may sound a little “off”, but with how little you add in comparison to the full volume of the glaze, and especially to the full amount of the ham, it really just gives the glaze a bit of a smoky flavor and a slight tang. I used plain yellow mustard, but you can use some of the more adventurous varieties – dijon, poupon, whole-seed, Chinese extra hot, whichever you prefer. Stir them all in until well blended.
Now it’s time for the dry seasonings. I used a generous amount of nutmeg, ground cloves and ground ginger: the same flavors used in gingerbread and apple pie. These really make for a festive aroma. A hint of salt is advisable, and as I prefer everything with garlic, I used garlic salt – but just a small dash. The other spice that got more of the limelight was pepper: I used both black and white pepper, and went especially generous on the white variety. Stir these in as well, and until the ham is ready for glazing, keep the bowl over the stove: the gentle heat helps keep the honey easy-flowing, hence easier to brush.
Now that the timer’s bell has woken us up from the pre-Christmas nap, it’s time for the ham to take a quick turn. I like to glaze the side that goes on the bottom before flipping the ham over so that part gets the “love” too. Try not to pierce the ham as you turn it over – a good method is using a spatula to lift and another to stabilize; an additional set of hands holding the pan is optional, but helpful. Cover it back up for now, and back in the oven it goes.
Set the timer for the rest of the baking time, less 30 minutes: another quick break to set the table, shower, get those last-minute presents wrapped, or just kick back and relax. As the timer beeps yet again, take out the ham, and grab a brush. I usually prefer natural-bristle pastry brushes for most tasks, but since the glaze is heavy enough to stick to the silicone-bristle brushes, I highly recommend those. Since they don’t need as delicate a care, it will be a lot easier to get all the rest of the glaze off of them once it comes to doing the dishes. Brush the ham all over with the glaze, using about 1/3 of what you have prepared, making sure to get it into every crevice. Some people prefer to trim their ham before glazing, removing the skin and fatty parts from the sides. This may be advisable if you’re using a particularly fatty ham, or if the skin on a dry-cured ham is too tough; however, with most wet-cured, lean hams it’s superfluous.
Now you won’t need to cover it back up for the next, 10-minute trip to the oven before the next glazing. I like to glaze my ham 3 times, with 10 minute baking increments inbetween: this way the sugar will caramelize nicely on the outside, but won’t burn.
After the three glazes and bakes, your ham should look something like this:
However, don’t get hasty now – first, the ham’s temperature hasn’t stabilized yet, which means that the outside is hotter than the inside. If you insert a thermometer right now, the core temperature should read 135 – however, after a 10-15 minute rest, it would read 140! The difference is caused by the juices being reabsorbed and redistributed throughout the fiber structure of the ham. Since the juices get reabsorbed, if you wait with the carving, you won’t lose most of that liquid on the cutting board, but keep it inside each slice. Yum!
Enjoy your Christmas ham!
As a stocking stuffer from AC4A, I had to include one more Christmas carol: a classic favorite, done in a slightly different manner by another big classic. Enjoy!