Monday, December 24, 2007

Glazed and Confused

In a previous existence - well, when I was a teenager - I worked in a professional kitchen. There was a restaurant in my home town of Helston called The Gondolier and it was run by a small, fiery Italian chef called Salvador Pisano. Salvador had cooked for popes and US presidents but had come to Cornwall on holiday, fallen in love with a local girl, and stayed. And, because he knew nothing else, he opened a restaurant. To be honest, The Gondolier was too posh for the locals. I don't mean that disparagingly - what I mean is that Helston was not a rich town; the tin mines were mostly shut, and the fishing and farming industries were in crisis. To add to the problem, Helston had no tourist attractions; it was not near the sea and there was no handy castle or prehistoric site of interest nearby. All Helston had to offer was Flora Day, a hugely popular semi-pagan festival of dance and theatre and music that takes place every May the 8th and fills the narrow streets with hundreds of thousands of visitors. So posh food at posh food prices just didn't work and the restaurant never really acheived the success it deserved. Ultimately (and after my time there) Salvador cut his losses and opened a very popular Pizzeria - the first in West Cornwall.

Anyhow, I got an evening and weekend job there washing pans and operating the industrial dishwasher. But then, one day, flu reduced the kitchen staff by nearly a third and Salvador was having a real problem keeping on top of service. He therefore approached me and said 'Sod the dishes! Can you make starters and desserts?' to which I replied, 'No idea ... but I'll give it a run!' So I did. And I was quite good at it. So every day he taught me a little more. And within a year I was cooking mains alongside the Master.

What Salvador taught me has stood me in good stead ever since. There's almost nothing I can't cook and during two marriages I've never been allowed out of the kitchen. But that suits me because I love cooking and I have the DIY skills of a duck. So while Dawn lays bricks, sands doors, paints walls and sticks tiles, I cook the meals and do a major chunk of the housework. It's not a traditional way of doing things but the role reversal suits us just fine.

The one exception to the rule is Christmas when Dawn likes to cook the dinner. Therefore, I'm left to do all of the 'extras'. So this year I've made fresh pickles, jams and jellies, and chutneys. And today I did a glazed ham. Here's my recipe (for what it's worth). It's one that I've evolved over the years from one I learned at the restaurant and it's delicious.

First of all, get a good quality gammon ham - the best you can afford (I'm told that the left leg is best because pigs are right-handed and do a lot of their digging with the right leg - consequently, the muscle is bigger and tougher). Cook it on the bone if you can - it tastes so much better. And, if you have time, soak it overnight in cold water the day before you plan to cook it to remove the excess salt.

Chuck the ham into a pan of water with a handful of black peppercorns, a couple of bayleaves and a couple of roughly-chopped and peeled onions. Half water and half cider is great too. Add a clove or two of garlic for an additional flavour if you like. Cook it on the hob for around two and a half hours (this was a 2kg ham), turning it over once halfway through the cooking time. I don't have a pan big enough for the size of ham I need to cook every year (we always have loads of people popping in for meals) so I cut it in two and boil the two pieces simultaneously in two pans. This also gives me the option of leaving one plain and one glazed - or of doing two different glazes.

Now take the ham out of the water and drain it on some kitchen paper for about 25-30 minutes. This allows the meat to rest and all of the juices redistribute themselves while the excess drains off into the paper. Meanwhile, don't waste that fabulous stock you've made! Strain it through a seive and keep it for soups and sauces. I pour mine into icecube bags and freeze it for future use (see photo above). Make sure you label the bags though ... nothing spoils a nice Baileys' on the rocks quite like gravy. After half an hour, the meat will be rested and cool enough to work with. If you bought a ham with the skin on, remove the skin and leave a thin layer of fat. Score it in a diamond pattern before applying the glaze. If it is a skin-free ham, just trim off the excess fat but leave some behind to baste the meat in the oven. Now prepare the glaze.

A glaze can be made from anything sticky and sweet. Popular choices are honey or marmalade but I have had golden syrup, raspberry jam , cranberry sauce ... even lime marmalade glazes and they've all been delicious. You also need some bite and the traditional way of doing this is to use English mustard. However, this year, I made a glaze of 1/3 Oxford marmalade, 1/3 my homemade crabapple jelly and 1/3 wholegrain mustard for some bite. Smear it all over the ham and then sprinkle with demerara sugar. If you want some extra flavour, push some cloves into the surface too.

Bung it in the oven for around 15-20 mins at 220°C (gas mark 7, 425°F ). Baste once or twice. When it's a glorious golden brown, remove from the oven and, once again, let it rest to make it juicy and moist. If it catches in a couple of places, don't worry! The black treacly caramel is delicious too!

Have a great day tomorrow people!

1 comment:

joelmead said...

This is one of the best headlines I've ever seen. I tip my metaphorical hat to you, Mr Colgan…