As a family, we don’t have many Christmas traditions (unless supping a lot of cava counts as a tradition?) but one thing has come to symbolise Christmas more than any other foodstuff and that’s a ham. More precisely, a ham cooked in Coca Cola as suggested by Nigella Lawson in her classic cookbook How to Eat.
Cooking with Coke has become quite fashionable over the past few years and the world seems to split into two camps about it, with those who are highly sceptical about it and those, like me, who embrace it wholeheartedly and seek any opportunity to add Atlanta’s finest to a dish from cake to Christmas ham. So I would be most disappointed not to get off the plane in Belfast to discover a perfect pink ham in the fridge waiting to be transformed into a smoky spicy sweet sensation in time for Christmas Eve supper.
Not only is the ham beyond tender and moist after its soft drink with vegetable extracts bath, it is also the easiest thing in the world to make. All you need is one plump piece of pork, about 2 litres of Coke and an onion or two studded with cloves, a large pot and a full stomach so as not to be driven wild as the ham infuses and cooks over the next 2 or 3 hours. Simply cover the ham in the liquid, add your onion and bring to the boil. Turn down to a simmer, place a lid on the pan and leave to just cook slowly at roughly an hour per kilo. I usually go off and finish wrapping my presents feeling utterly festive and increasingly hungry…
Normally we simply take the ham out to cool before serving in a selection of sandwiches, suppers and side dishes, omitting the crust Nigella mentions as it’s a bit too mustardy for our liking, but this year, we decided not to get stuck in our ways and try something new, glazing the top of the ham with a mix of black treacle, mustard and homemade quince jelly before blasting it in the oven to get a dark sticky crust to add another dimension to the barbecue influenced meat.
The glaze takes no time at all to make up, as I simply put some Meaux mustard, treacle and quince jelly in a pan to melt down, adding a splash of soy sauce and some tamarind paste and allowing it to all meld together before brushing it over the snow white fat on top of the pink porker and popping it in the oven for 15 minutes at 190 degrees. I then took it out, reglazed it and put in the oven again at 220 degrees for another 10 minutes.
After resting it for 20 minutes, it made the most amazing sandwich. Malted bread spread with mustard, the remains of the glaze and spiked with home made sweet pickles, it was soft and juicy with the right amount of salt and a delicious spiced flavour with a sticky sweet yet umami topping. The minute the sandwich was finished, we were reaching for another slice of the ham, unable to get enough of it. This is one tradition that gets better with every passing year!