For my friend Lauren’s birthday, I wanted to do a Southern menu for her to remind her of home (she’s from North Carolina). This was my second attempt with ham… but it was a lot less work and much tastier than my first. Last year I ordered a real, whole, raw ham straight from Virginia.
It came (as it should) covered in mold and involved a long, there-day soaking in tea bags and rinsing process before I could even begin to cook it. I cooked it quite simply and it was really good, but I’m not sure it was worth all that effort, time and expense.
If you don’t know this already, I am completely in love with Nigella Lawson. I adore everything about her: I love her look, I love her approach towards cooking and entertaining, I love her library, I love her writing style, I love that she is British and that I can channel that here in HK with out British heritage… I would really pretty much die to be her. SO, when Nigella said (in her book Feast) she always makes a Coca-Cola ham when hosting a birthday, I decided to give it a go. The recipe in her book is actually for a Cherry Coke ham, while the one on her site is for a regular Coke one, but I couldn’t find Cherry Coke here in HK so regular it was.
Nigella’s ham calls for a gammon–and I did not know what that even was! Ham is actually quite confusing… ham is a pig’s hind leg that has been smoked, salted, or dried for preservation. Most hams are sold already preserved (cooked), but those are supposedly not the best kind of ham. Gammon differs from traditional ham in that it comes from the hind leg, but is cured as part of a side of bacon and cut off afterward. Apparently it is a very popular in Britain, so I was able to find it very easily in Hong Kong. It’s a nice and manageable size of meat.
Nigella’s recipe is quite easy… you basically boil the ham, along with one onion peeled and cut in half) in the Coke for close to three hours. Then you take the ham out of the Coke and glaze it with molasses (the recipe actually calls for black treacle, which is apparently a British version of Molasses), mustard powder, Demerara sugar and then you cut little diamonds into it that you pierce with cloves. The end result is a ham with a lot of depth and flavor–and a crunchy crust bursting with the sweetness of the coke and the mustiness of the mustard and cloves.
Nigella ingeniously suggest in her book that you not let all of that delicious ham-Coke broth go to waste… instead you shred up a whole head of red cabbage add to two tablespoons of vinegar and boil the cabbage for a little over an hour (while the ham is finishing in the oven). To complete the meal I made Smitten Kitchen’s awesome (and I mean awesome) sweet potato salad (pecans, cranberries, celery, goat cheese etc.). I’m not bragging, but I have to say the whole plate really just works. Everything is good on it’s own, but it’s also awesome to take a little piece of ham, a little cabbage and some sweet potato–all together, it’s really a perfect bite.
Let me also say that this menu is very manageable. You can bake the ham and sweet potatoes the day before and then you really just need 1.5 hours to boil the cabbage and bake the ham. While those two things are cooking, you can make the salad for the sweet potatoes. And all of this can be done before your guests arrive.
Have any of you done much with ham? What are your favorite ways to cook and serve it? Next up on my list of things to try, the Chinese version of this: Coca-Cola Duck! I think it will be a nice warm-up before attempting Peking Duck.