Ham has re­gained its place as the cen­tre­piece of fes­tive din­ing. LINDY ALEXAN­DER

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - On Sunday -

There are few things as fes­tive as a Christ­mas ham. Whether stud­ded with cloves, basted with sticky syrup or served plump and pink with its dark skin, ham is un­de­ni­ably the king of the feast.

“Ham is the cen­tre­piece of a ta­ble,” says Mitch Edwards from Aus­tralian Pork. “Visu­ally, a ham can be dec­o­rated to say Christ­mas. In con­trast, roast pork or tur­key doesn’t have that wow factor.”

If you’re ded­i­cated, you can buy fresh pork then brine and boil it your­self. But most of us will buy ham that is cured, cooked, smoked and ready to eat – all we have to do is add the fin­ish­ing touches.

But there is still much to con­sider: a whole ham or half? Bone-in or bone­less? Glazed or nat­u­ral? We con­sulted the ex­perts to en­sure you get the most out of your Christ­mas ham.


Think about how many peo­ple you need to cater for. “An av­er­age ham is about 10kg and that would feed a whole tribe!” says Edwards. “But peo­ple shouldn’t be afraid to buy a half ham, as that will still feed at least 10 peo­ple.”


“The range for a ham tends to be be­tween $70 and $150,” says Edwards.

Free range or spe­cial­ity breeds are typ­i­cally more ex­pen­sive.

“The ori­gin of the ham will af­fect the price,” adds Edwards. “Artisan pro­duc­ers will do a prod­uct that is the best qual­ity rather than the best profit.”


Legs of ham on the bone can­not be im­ported into Aus­tralia, but you need to ex­er­cise cau­tion if you’re buy­ing bone­less ham as it can be im­ported. The pink square Pork­mark logo shows ham made with fresh Aus­tralian pork.


Most hams are smoked, and a dark colour on the skin is an in­di­ca­tion it has been nat­u­rally wood-smoked.

“Some com­pa­nies use liq­uid smoke, which re­sults in a lighter skin and you don’t have a strong flavour,” says Alas­tair Steven­son from Gilly’s Small­go­ods in Clon­tarf, Queens­land. The colour of the meat should be an even pink, and if you buy a half ham, check the bag is sealed tightly with­out too much mois­ture.

“If you’re go­ing to bake it, you’ll also want a ham that has more fat cov­er­age, so it won’t dry out,” says Steven­son.


A good butcher will of­ten let you sam­ple ham be­fore you make your de­ci­sion. Think about the bal­ance of salt and smoke, the tex­ture and suc­cu­lence.

John Yeo from Westridge Meats in Toowoomba, Queens­land, which re­cently won the 2016 Best Aus­tralian Ham award from Aus­tralian Pork, says it’s also im­por­tant to note the af­ter­taste. “You want some salti­ness and sweet­ness to linger af­ter you’ve eaten it,” he says.


Glazes are back in a big way, and ten­der, salty ham is per­fect with a sweet glaze.

“There’s noth­ing bet­ter than sit­ting down to Christ­mas lunch with a honey mus­tard glaze melt­ing into the ham,” says Yeo. Glaz­ing adds sweet­ness, but re­mem­ber you’re bast­ing it, not cook­ing it, so take care not to dry out the meat.

“You want to get the fat and skin crackly and suc­cu­lent,” Matt Wilkin­son, chef and co-owner of Pope Joan in Mel­bourne, says. “There are so many glazes – cloves and mus­tard pow­der, wine and honey or a taste of the Caribbean with co­conut and pineap­ple.”

In the north­ern hemi­sphere, citrus glazes are pop­u­lar, ac­cord­ing to CubanAmer­i­can chef Danielle Al­varez of Syd­ney restau­rant Fred’s. “An or­ange or tan­ger­ine glaze with a bit of sage is great,” she says. “And for Aus­tralia, pineap­ple works so well. But re­ally any­thing sweet with ham is de­li­cious.”


Un­like most of the presents un­der the tree, ham is the gift that keeps on giv­ing. Re­frig­er­ated in a cal­ico ham bag, it can last up to four weeks. Most peo­ple dampen the bag with vine­gar first, but Steven­son says a dry tea towel or pil­low­case works equally well.

Wilkin­son likes to see the ex­trav­a­gance of Christ­mas put to good use af­ter the main event. “You can use ham in so many dif­fer­ent ways to make sure there’s no waste,” he says. “Make an omelette with feta and ham for brunch, put it through stir-fried rice or make a beau­ti­ful stock with the bone and use it in a ham risotto.”

Al­varez can’t go past an old favourite, al­beit with a twist. “A ham sand­wich with cran­berry chut­ney on a soft potato roll is just so good,” she says.

Wilkin­son has a fi­nal tip on how to ham things up. “Every­one needs to wear a re­ally stupid jumper on Christ­mas day,” he laughs. “I’ve got mine al­ready.”



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