Let us cure your Christmas ham conundrums
The big leg of ham is a staple on many Australian dining tables at Christmas.
That smoky smell, the cold cut, and (of course) the leftovers — how do you make the most of it and pick the best ham you can?
The first tip from butcher Adam Stratton is to make sure your ham has a pink “Australian pork” label.
“If that label’s on the bone, it’s from home,” he said.
Mr Stratton, who owns four butcher shops in Sydney, sources his pork from farms in Albury Wodonga.
He said the past few years had seen an increase in imported pork, mainly bacon and small pieces of pork.
“Unless you see [labels on meat] with over 90 per cent Australian ingredients, I wouldn’t trust it,” Mr Stratton said.
“It’s more beneficial and better to support our own industry which is one of the best in the world.”
Don’t go overboard and get a huge ham if it’s not going to fit in your oven, warned food writer Michele Cranston.
“Remember to measure the width and depth of your oven because you don’t want to get carried away and not be able to cook it,” she said.
“Also think about how many people you’ll be getting — look at a smaller leg or half a leg.”
Price and pinkness is key
Ms Cranston said to check there was an even layer of fat and no dark spots, which indicate bruising.
Make sure the skin of the ham is nice and brown and well smoked, Mr Stratton added.
A smooth, consistent pink colour with no blotchiness is important as it means the leg has been evenly cured with salt.
Price is also a fair indication of the quality of meat — a good-quality ham can be anything between $14 and $18 per kilogram.
“Don’t be lured in by a cheaper price,” Mr Stratton said.
“Go for one that has been naturally smoked; pay a little more money and you can look through the bag and it has a good texture right through it.
“I want a nice smoky taste, I want the texture not too dry, I want it to be nice and moist, and I want to be able to smell the smokiness.”
Female free-range hams are also the best-tasting compared with male hams which have a stronger and less pleasant taste.
Michele’s glazing recipe
- Mix brown sugar, Chinese five spice and a bit of Guinness into a paste.
- Carefully cut the thin part of the leg, run your finger under the skin and slowly work it off the leg.
- Finely score or slice through the fat in a criss-cross pattern or lines.
- Cover the layer of fat with the glazing paste.
- Put in a hot oven at 220 degrees for about 20-30 minutes.
Tip: Check every 5-10 minutes to make sure the glaze doesn’t burn. Brush on more juices if necessary.
Mr Stratton likes to serve his ham raw off the bone, although glazing the ham has become much more popular in recent years, he said.
There are now glazes available to buy from delicatessens, butchers and supermarkets for a quick option.
For a simple home-made version, Ms Cranston suggested mixing Seville marmalade with English mustard.
“You get the glaziness of the jam and the bite of the mustard,” she said.
And what to do with the leftovers?
“In a sandwich with lettuce, tomato and eat it while watching the cricket.”
Safeguarding your leftovers
If buying the ham ahead of Christmas Day, and you want leftovers to last you at least two weeks, then preserving the ham is important.
A calico ham bag is the best way to store your ham, although a clean pillowcase will also do the trick.
- Peel off the skin but place it back over the ham to protect it.
- Get a wet tea towel, pillowcase or ham bag, soak it in a solution of water (2 cups) with vinegar (1 cap/lid) which helps preserve the ham.
- Squeeze out moisture from the bag.
- Place the ham inside.
- Keep in the fridge.
- Repeat every 2-3 days.