Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Helping the Holiday Ham

Good evening everyone! We’re presently in the dead center of the holiday season. Thanksgiving is two weeks behind us, Christmas is two weeks ahead. This means countless family gatherings and endless holiday meals. Thanksgiving and Christmas are fairly traditional holidays when it comes to the meal selection. Turkey is the staple of Thanksgiving, while ham is the predominant dish come Christmas day. (Obviously this isn’t a blanket statement and your own family could choose to eat something else entirely on these holidays – the larger point here is that when it comes to percentages, those two rank ahead of all else).

Turkey gets a lot of attention on Thanksgiving because it’s such an uncommon item to cook (we typically deal with it once per year) and people are worried their inexperience could lead to a disastrous finish (dried out meat, burnt down house, family never speaking to you again – you know, the usual). As such, there are countless “how to cook a turkey” stories on morning news shows, food magazines and online.

The traditional holiday ham, however, rarely receives such attention. After all, it’s just ham, how hard can it really be? Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve had my fair share of dried out hams at family gatherings and can attest that ham must not be as easy to cook as people assume it is.

In fact, when you consider what you’re up against, the holiday ham should probably be treated with as much prep and research as the thanksgiving turkey. After all, you’ve got a large (and typically expensive) piece of meat that needs several hours to cook, but can dry out in as little as one hour. Then there’s the sauce to think about. Sure, most hams come with a prepackaged sauce, but those over sweet disasters rarely ADD anything to the dish and typically are so powerful they wash away the flavor of everything else on the plate.

Yes, it’s time the holiday ham got its due attention. After all, with just a few easy steps, you can save the ham from becoming a dry piece of leather – thereby saving Christmas for everyone.

The Recipe: Holiday Ham with Cherry Port Glaze
Original Recipe Found In: America’s Test Kitchen – The Complete Cookbook

What You’ll Need:
1 Spiral Cut Ham (Bone-in) – weight depends on the number of people you’re feeding
½ Cup Cherry Port
½ Cup Cherry Preserves
1 Teaspoon Black Pepper

Spiral cut, bone in ham provides the best flavor for your buck, and if you’re serving a large crowd, it actually becomes a decent value (per plate). Since we were serving two, we opted to use a whole ham (boneless) that came in at a more modest 5lbs and $9. However, our instructions are applicable to the use of both hams.

The key to the ham lies in the roasting time. The rule of thumb has been 20 minutes of cooking time per pound of ham (bone in) – which when you start dealing with larger hams, can push the cook time into the two to three hour range. The problem is that a large roast will dry out on the ends well before the center is cooked. You can lower the oven temperature, but that can push your cook time into the 4 to 6 hour range and you’ll STILL likely have dried edges.

Luckily, the folks at America’s Test Kitchen have devised a solution. Begin by filling a large container (one big enough to fit the ham in) with hot tap water (as hot as your tap goes). If you have split sinks, one side of a sink works well for this. Submerge the ham (still wrapped in it’s packaging) in the water for 45 minutes. Then drain the water and will the container with hot tap water once more, again allowing the ham to sit submerged for 45 minutes.

This hot bath brings up the internal temperature of the ham, and lowers the cooking time per pound from 20 minutes to a much more reasonable 10.

Place your oven rack to its lowest position and preheat the oven to 250 degrees.

Remove the ham from its packaging and place it in a large roasting pan. If your pan has a lid, and it fits over the ham, cover the pan with the lid. If, however, the ham is too big for your roasting pan (this is very likely) use aluminum foil to tightly cover the exposed portion of the ham. Once covered, place the ham in the oven and cook for 10 minutes per pound. (For example, our 5 pound ham needed 50 minutes in the oven).

While your ham is roasting, you can begin preparing the glaze. In a small saucepan over medium high heat, bring the cherry port to a simmer and allow it to cook until it reduces to about 2 tablespoons (this takes about 5 minutes). Once reduced, add the cherry preserves and black pepper. Stir well, then bring the mixture to a light simmer. Allow it to simmer until it thickens (it should cling to your spoon when you stir). Once thickened, remove from heat and set aside.

After the initial time is up, remove the ham and use and instant read thermometer to check the temperature at the center of the ham. You’re looking for 100 degrees. If you’re there, increase the oven temperature to 350 and cover the ham with about ½ of the glaze you prepared earlier. If it’s still a bit short of 100 degrees, cover the ham and return it to the oven for an additional 10 to 15 minutes and check the temperature once more.

Return the glazed ham to the oven (uncovered) and bake for 10 minutes, or until the glaze thickens and forms a sticky outer layer on the ham. Remove the ham from the oven and transfer it to a cutting board. Tent it loosely with aluminum foil and allow it to rest for 10 minutes before cutting.

Slice into ½ inch thick pieces and serve with the remaining glaze. Enjoy!

The Results:

This was the most moist, flavorful ham I’ve ever had – a fact that could only be achieved via the warm bath method described above. The ham was evenly cooked throughout, with no dried edges and no underdone portions in the center. Better yet, each bite was full of moisture and flavor.

The glaze was extremely flavorful, but admittedly at bit too sweet for my liking. I’m not overly found of sweet glazes, so my prejudice could be clouding my take on the glaze a bit (Maggie thought it was quite good). I’d modify this glaze a bit in the future by cutting the sweetness with a bit of citrus – cranberries could work well in that regard.

We paired our ham with escalloped corn (from a recipe we posted a few weeks ago) and crispy oven potatoes (recipe to come next week). You, of course, are free to pair the dish with whatever you so choose.

It’s amazing how a few simple steps took a traditional, flawed, holiday staple and turned it to a sure fire hit. If your menu calls for holiday ham this year, give this cooking method a try. You won’t be disappointed.

That’s all we have for you this evening. I’m coming back tomorrow night with a quick recipe idea for how to use some of that leftover ham (because there’s always some left after the holidays) and Maggie will close out the week with a recipe for a healthy take on the classic scone. Until then,


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