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The Christmas ham takeover

"always surplus to requirements given the 6kg of cold poultry sitting in the fridge" Felicity Cloake

I know I've said it before but it seems to me that Christmas in Australia is evolving - and so it should really - to be dominated by seafood and ham, maybe pork, with the turkey as a sort of afterthought almost. And today I'm looking at ham and ham glazes because of the focus given to it in both Woolworths and Coles December magazines.

I actually started thinking about the whole topic because of these two pictures:

They are both those ads/promotions that you find in both of these supermarket magazines. They are presented as a full page picture and recipe that uses the particular product in question. In this case it's not the ham - it's the pineapple - canned pineapple in fact, from Dole - the company I mentioned the other day as the world's largest agricultural producer. I'm guessing it's American. These promotional pages are presented in such a way that without looking carefully you might think it's actually one of the recipes from Coles. I saw the one on the left first in the Woolworths magazine and was marginally repelled by it. It was so over the top. On the other hand the one in the Coles Magazine looked quite tempting - partly because the pineapple slices were somewhat charred I think. Curious and most likely just a matter of personal taste. The recipes differ slightly - not just in the way the pineapple slices are used, but also in the glaze ingredients. But really my purpose here is not so much to supply recipes. I'm sure you can find them on the Dole website - but both have the same title - Rum and pineapple glazed ham.

I have to say also that really you shouldn't be using pineapple from a can when the real thing is so cheap at the moment - although I suppose the extra juice that you get from the can might provide a bit of extra sweetness. Tony Tan has a recipe using pineapple but he also cooks wedges of pineapple with the ham in the roasting tin.

No the thing is the dominance of the Christmas ham. I suspect there are more of them in the shops right now than turkeys. Both of these magazines have several recipes within for cooking the ham, for the glazes and for the leftovers as well.

Ham at Christmas actually predates Christmas. It's a pagan yuletide thing when a wild boar was sacrificed to the Norse god Freyr - a god of fertility, peace, prosperity. I'm guessing the wild boar was the fertility bit. With the advent of Christianity the association shifted from Freyr to Saint Stephen whose day is Boxing Day. Anyway think of all those whole boars with the apple in the mouth at Christmas feasts in medieval times. The turkey is a very recent tradition - and maybe here in Australia it will eventually fade from view. Though not in my sons' kitchens I think. They are just sorry that we don't eat turkey at any other time.

The other interesting thing about the Australian Christmas ham and the glaze is how the glazes are becoming increasingly Asian. Tony Tan's version is served with tomato sambal and Kylie Kwong's version is pretty Asian. You might also notice that the ham on the left at the top of the page has star anise in the centre of the pineapple slices, as opposed to the older - late 20th century glazed cherries shown above. So very not today.

So what do you put in a glaze for a ham?

"A spicy glaze will offset the mildness of the meat. Mustard and chilli is the usual suggestion, but I like some sweetness there, too, in the form of honey or marmalade. It’s better still if there is enough glaze to bubble down in the pan and allow each of us a spoonful of hot sauce to spread on our moist, pink ham.:" Nigel Slater

Which sort of sums up the basic mix of a ham glaze - something sweet, something sour, something spicy. Mustard and marmalade used to be the thing, and they still appear frequently but I suspect they are being replaced by chilli, various Asian spices and actual fruit. Extra sweetness? Maple syrup, fruit juice, sugar, honey, treacle, molasses, pomegranate syrup ... Alcohol also seems to be common these days with rum being the favourite this year. Curtis Stone has a passionfruit and palm sugar alongside peach and rum elsewhere in the magazine:

It's actually a really easy thing to muck around with - a ham glaze. As long as you have the sweet and sour thing in your head, probably more sweet than sour, then you can go to town. They say you should glaze it every 15 minutes, and I know I find the problem is that it might burn - but that's probably because I usually do it in a Weber. Maybe I should cover it with foil once it starts to look artistically charred. Mind you I think it is probably better cooked in an oven. But then, as the butcher in the picture at the top of the page said - you need to make sure your ham will fit in your oven. Some of them are huge.

But then that's the gift that keeps on giving isn't it? You can do so much with leftover ham - and for such a long time. It doesn't go off as quickly as the turkey - not that there tends to be much turkey left if my two sons are around.



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