CHOOSING YOUR HAM
Allow 300g per person for ham on the bone, 200g per person off the bone. It’s worth ordering a ham online (see stockists overleaf ), as the supermarkets only have small joints.
BONE IN OR BONELESS?
The most delicious, juiciest meat is cooked on the bone, and after all the ham is finished you can use the bone to make a fantastic broth. Bone-in joints are generally huge, whole legs weighing 6kg or more, although a few suppliers will sell a half leg. Boned hams, meanwhile, come in whatever size suits you, are easier to carve, and still taste great.
TO SOAK OR NOT TO SOAK?
These days, it’s generally not necessary to soak gammon (uncooked ham) to make it less salty before cooking. That said, some will benefit from a soak in cold water overnight (ideally not longer than that: you don’t want to remove all the trademark salinity), especially if you plan to bake the ham outright rather than simmering it in broth first (see ‘how to cook’ overleaf ). The producer’s instructions should say if they expect you to soak, but the only way to be sure is to slice off a sliver and cook it quickly in a frying pan. This will probably make the slice a bit tough and dry, but it lets you taste and judge. Bear in mind that the edge may be a bit saltier than the middle.
How do you feed a crowd at Christmas? I think I’ve got it nailed. With 18 people coming for Boxing Day lunch this year (how did I let that happen?!) it will be a simple meal, a reprise of a successful Christmas Eve dinner from a few years back: a whole, hot ham glazed in the oven. Then, we ate it with boiled potatoes, and a parsley liquor – a sort of thin sauce-meets-soup – and green crinkly shreds of buttered cabbage. It was the right food at the right time, eaten out of deep soup plates and followed by mince pies, cream and clementines. There were lots of leftovers for sandwiches, salads and soup: cold ham is a much more useful thing to find in the fridge than turkey.
This year I’ll be doing it in red wine and fennel, or maybe a fiery ginger version. That’s the great thing about a ham. There are lots of options: just flavour the broth with some herbs, spices, booze or all three, and add the side dishes and relishes. Bring out all the jars of chutney and pile them into bowls. Stack up the plates, and get stuck in.