Every year, as the cold sets in I start to organise a big sit down Christmas in July dinner. Even after nine years in Australia (and despite being born in Malaysia) Christmas is very much a cold weather event for me. That’s not to say I don’t love big Aussie seafood Christmas lunches or backyard cricket – I do, but it’s just so comforting to sit down with a warm mug of mulled wine, the smell of Christmas pudding throughout the house and a big glazed ham on the table. It really helps me get through the winter, plus it makes actual Christmas seem not so far away.
If you’ve ever lamented not being able to spend Christmas with friends, Christmas in July is for you. Food, friends, fun and a great excuse to keep drinking red wine. What more do you need?
The first step is finding a good butcher, and the first thing you should ask them is if they use Australian pork, preferably free range pigs.
It’s really not much more expensive at all. The lovely guys at Ben’s All Meats in Belconnen are one of my favourites, and I’ve been using them as long as I’ve been here in the ‘Berra. They deal with my inane requests week in and week out, including slabs of pork rind, whole beef briskets, special orders for wagyu mince, suet for Christmas puddings. If you’re not sure who to go to, Australian Pork have put together a handy list of best hams by state, even noting the best nationally available hams.
It’s always nice to be able to support your local butcher, and Christmas (in July or December!) is a perfect time to stop in and have a chat with yours.
Ben’s ham is brined overnight then smoked using real hickory wood chips (lots of places cheat and use liquid smoke). The ham itself is moist with a good level of salt and oh-so-moreish. I had planned for leftover ham and pea soup, and I’m not entirely sure how, but 10 people ate all the four kilos of ham. If you do have leftovers though, cover the ham with the skin, soak a clean pillowcase or ham bag in a mixture of 1L water and 2 tbsp white vinegar, squeeze to remove excess water and place into the bag.
Right, let’s get to the food part – there’s three parts to a good glaze – sticky stuff (jam), sugar (brown for quicker caramelisation) and acid for balance (apple cider vinegar) – from there, you can add anything you want, like maple syrup – because it’s the answer to almost everything. Use the elements in any combination – mix up the jam with apple, apricot or marmalade, or swap sugar for treacle for a dark smoky flavour.
Apple cider vinegar and maple glazed ham
- 1 4-6kg Australian ham buy the best quality ham you can afford
- 2 tbsp cloves
- 2/3 cup apricot jam apple or marmalade work well too
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 1/3 cup maple syrup
- splash dark rum (optional)
- 3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- Use a sharp knife to cut around the leg end of the ham, about 10cm from the end. Run a knife under the rind around edge of ham. Run your fingers between the rind and the fat, gently removing the rind/skin in one piece. Score the fat in a diamond pattern, about 5mm deep. (You can also ask your butcher to do this for you – I'm pretty particular about the evenness of my diamonds, so I prefer to ask the butcher to remove the rind, but score the diamonds myself). If you are planning on having leftover ham, keep the rind so that you can cover the ham again as it helps keep the meat from drying out.
- Preheat oven to 180C.
- Heat the jam, brown sugar, maple syrup and rum in a small saucepan until the ingredients have melted. Turn up the heat and reduce the glaze until thick and syrupy.
- While the glaze is reducing, stud each diamond with a clove.
- Liberally brush on the glaze, then place the ham in the oven for 45 mins, brushing with more glaze every 15 minutes. Cook for longer if you want (or have a larger ham) – I prefer not to cook for longer than 45 minutes to stop the ham from drying out.
- Remove from oven, allow to cool for at least 10 minutes (or rest for up to 8 hours) then slice across the grain.