How To Cool A Ham

How to cook the perfect Christmas ham, from broth, to glaze, to leftovers

How do you feed a crowd at Christmas? I think I’ve got it nailed. With 18 people coming for Boxing Day lunch this year (how did I let that happen?!) it will be a simple meal, a reprise of a successful Christmas Eve dinner from a few years back: a whole, hot ham glazed in the oven.

Then, we ate it with boiled potatoes, and a parsley liquor – a sort of thin sauce-meets-soup – and green crinkly shreds of buttered cabbage. It was the right food at the right time, eaten out of deep soup plates and followed by mince pies, cream and clementines.

There were lots of leftovers for sandwiches, salads and soup: cold ham is a much more useful thing to find in the fridge than turkey.

This year I’ll be doing it in red wine and fennel, or maybe a fiery ginger version. That’s the great thing about a ham. There are lots of options: just flavour the broth with some herbs, spices, booze or all three, and add the side dishes and relishes.

Bring out all the jars of chutney and pile them into bowls. Stack up the plates, and get stuck in.


Choosing your ham

Allow 300g per person for ham on the bone, 200g per person off the bone. It’s worth ordering a ham online (see stockists below), as the supermarkets only have small joints.

Bone in or boneless?

The most delicious, juiciest meat is cooked on the bone, and after all the ham is finished you can use the bone to make a fantastic broth. Bone-in joints are generally huge, whole legs weighing 6kg or more, although a few suppliers will sell a half leg. Boned hams, meanwhile, come in whatever size suits you, are easier to carve, and still taste great.

To soak or not to soak

These days, it’s generally not necessary to soak gammon (uncooked ham) to make it less salty before cooking. That said, some will benefit from a soak in cold water overnight (ideally not longer than that: you don’t want to remove all the trademark salinity), especially if you plan to bake the ham outright rather than simmering it in broth first (see ‘how to cook’, below).

The producer’s instructions should say if they expect you to soak, but the only way to be sure is to slice off a sliver and cook it quickly in a frying pan. This will probably make the slice a bit tough and dry, but it lets you taste and judge. Bear in mind that the edge may be a bit saltier than the middle.


‘Bored of diamonds? Use a small metal biscuit cutter – a circle or star – to stamp the fat instead’ Credit: Haarala Hamilton

Cooking methods

You can bake the ham outright in the oven (170C/150C fan/Gas 3 for 22 minutes per 500g), but simmering it in a broth first (as I recommend in the recipes below) lends extra flavour and results in a hammy liquid that is great for soups and stews. Weigh the ham before you start.

  • To simmer: put all the ingredients for the broth (see the recipes below for details) in a large pan and bring to the boil. Simmer for five minutes then add the ham.
  • Bring back to the boil and simmer very gently for 22 minutes per 500g.
  • Lift out carefully (rubber gloves are helpful) and serve hot, or leave to cool in the broth and continue by glazing and baking.

The broth

Water will do fine for simmering the ham, but adding extra flavourings gives oomph to your meat and broth. The exact quantity of liquid – which should cover the ham generously – depends on the size and shape of the ham and pot. Choose one that fits your ham the most snugly.

Depth is often an issue so improvise – if you have an asparagus steamer getting dusty in the back of the cupboard (I know, most of us don’t), it’s ideal for small boneless joints. If you need more liquid to cover the ham, either double the quantities or add water to make it up. Or tent tin foil over the ham, sealing it around the edge of the pan, and turn the ham half way through the cooking.

Scoring the fat

Once the ham is just cool enough to handle, peel off the skin, leaving a layer of fat on the meat. Score this in a criss-cross with a sharp knife, to help the glaze stick and caramelise, and also to look pretty. You can stud a clove in the middle of each diamond if you like. Bored of diamonds? Use a small metal biscuit cutter – a circle or star – to stamp the fat instead.

The glaze

A syrupy glaze makes for a burnished, caramelised finish to the ham fat: plain honey, maple syrup or even golden syrup or jam are all good quick fixes. But pungent spice is a good addition – mustard or ginger say. Vinegar or fruit juice lends acidity, especially if you add sugar for extra caramelisation.

  • To glaze and bake: brush the fat with half the glaze and bake for 10 minutes at 190C/170C/Gas 5. Brush with the rest of the glaze or sprinkle with sugar.
  • Bake for 10-20 minutes until brown and glistening.

RECIPE 1: Ham with red wine and fennel seed

Pork, fennel and red wine are a classic combination, and this purple-stained ham is a great centrepiece. I prefer to use a cheap cabernet sauvignon or syrah-based wine, as I’ve found merlot gives a duller, less appetising colour. Serve with lentils cooked in the broth, braised chicory and some green leaf salad – watercress is ideal.


For the broth

  • 750ml red wine
  • 750ml water
  • Broad strip of orange zest
  • 1 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 4 tbsp light brown sugar


  1. Bring the broth ingredients to the boil then simmer for five minutes.
  2. Add the raw ham and follow the ‘how to cook’ instructions above.


  • Mix 150g brown sugar with 200ml of the cooking broth. Boil until syrupy, about 10 minutes. Brush on to the ham, following the ‘how to cook’ instructions above.


Braised chicory

  1. Halve six heads of chicory lengthways. Heat 120g salted butter in a large frying pan and cook the chicory cut-side down for 10 minutes or so, until well caramelised. Pour over chicken or vegetable stock to barely cover, add a squeeze of lemon juice plus a scattering of salt and pop on a lid. Simmer very, very gently for 20 minutes until tender (it’s fine to do this earlier in the day and reheat).

Red wine lentils

  1. Heat one tablespoon of fat from the top of the red wine ham broth (or use olive oil).
  2. Finely chop an onion, carrot and two cloves of garlic. Add 500g rinsed lentils and 400ml red wine broth, plus a bay leaf, and enough water to cover generously. Simmer for 30 minutes or until cooked through, skimming off any scum that forms. Top up with water if necessary, but aim for them to be done just as the liquid has mostly evaporated.
  3. Taste and season with salt and pepper, and scatter with chopped parsley if you like.


Chicken in red wine with cavolo nero

  1. Joint a small whole chicken or use four leg and thigh portions. Fry in a hot dry pan on both sides until the fat runs and they turn golden. Set aside.
  2. Peel and halve eight small round shallots and cook, cut side down, in the pan juices until golden. Turn and add 300g small/medium-sized mushrooms. Cook until tender and patched with brown.
  3. Return the chicken to the pan and add 400ml red wine broth. Simmer for 40 minutes or until the chicken is tender.
  4. Chop 300g cavolo nero, spring greens or kale, removing any tough stems. Add to the pan and stir until wilted. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
  5.  Toast four fat slices of sourdough bread, rub with a cut garlic clove and trickle with olive oil. Put in deep bowls. Ladle over the chicken, vegetables and juice.

RECIPE 2: Ham in ginger beer

This is a British take on ham in Coca-Cola, with a really spicy kick from the ginger. Don’t use a ginger beer with artificial sweeteners in – I used Fentimans, which has a little less sugar than some of the others.


For the broth


  1. Bring the broth ingredients to the boil then simmer for five minutes.
  2. Add the raw ham and follow the ‘how to cook’ instructions above.


  • Boil 750ml of the broth down to 100ml. Add 100g caster sugar, one tablespoon of soy sauce and one tablespoon of ground ginger. Simmer until syrupy and cool slightly.
  • Stir in two tablespoons of demerara sugar. Brush on to the ham, following the ‘how to cook’ method above.


Roast sweet potatoes, plus a salad of bitter leaves


Carrot, ginger and lentil soup

Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

I like to eat this sweet, feisty soup with some bread and Stilton alongside – or even a little of the blue cheese sprinkled on top. A few whole coriander seeds, heated in a dry pan until fragrant, is another good topping.


Enough for four as a starter or two lunches


  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil or fat from the top of the ginger beer broth
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 stick of celery, finely chopped
  • 250g carrots, chopped
  • 100g red lentils
  • 500ml ginger beer broth
  • Grated root ginger (optional)
  • Yogurt or crème fraîche, to serve


  1. Heat the oil or fat in a large pan and gently cook the onion, celery and carrot for 10 minutes or so until soft. Add the lentils, broth, and 500ml water. Cover and simmer until the lentils are soft. Blitz briefly with a hand blender, leaving some texture.
  2.  Season to taste and add grated fresh ginger if you like, plus more water for a thinner soup. Serve with yogurt or crème fraîche.

RECIPE 3: Ham in vermouth with parsley liquor


For the broth

  • 250ml white vermouth
  • 1.5 litres water
  • Bunch parsley stalks (keep the leaves for the sauce below)
  • Slice each of carrot and onion
  • 2 bay leaves


  1. Bring the broth ingredients to the boil then simmer for five minutes.
  2. Add the raw ham and follow the ‘how to cook’ instructions above.


  • Mix 150g brown sugar with 200ml broth and simmer until syrupy. Brush on to the ham, following the ‘how to cook’ method above.


Boiled floury potatoes, buttered cabbage and parsley and vermouth sauce

Parsley and vermouth sauce

  1. Melt 50g butter and stir in 50g flour. Gradually stir in 1.5 litres vermouth cooking liquor (or a mix of liquor and water). Bring to a simmer and add four tablespoons of cream. Simmer until it has the consistency of thin cream.
  2.  Shortly before serving stir in the chopped parsley leaves from a large bunch. Season with salt and pepper.


Pea and ham soup with Stilton butter toasts

Credit: EyeEm

  1. Soak 250g green split peas overnight.
  2. Heat one tablespoon of oil or fat from the top of the broth and sauté one sliced onion and one sliced celery stick. When soft, add the drained split peas and 1 litre of broth. Simmer for an hour or until tender, then add 250g frozen peas.
  3.  Cook for another minute then purée with a hand blender. Stir in a handful of chopped ham scraps and scatter with chopped parsley.
  4. Mash 50g leftover Stilton with an equal quantity of butter and spread on hot toast to serve alongside.

RECIPE 4: Ham in perry or cider

An apple, quince and pear relish works brilliantly with baked ham Credit: Haarala Hamilton

Perry or cider gives a lovely mellow sweetness to ham. The broth works well as a base for Boston baked beans.


For the broth

  • 1 litre perry or cider
  • 1 tbsp coriander seed
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • 1 onion, sliced


  1. Bring the broth ingredients to the boil then simmer for five minutes.
  2. Add the raw ham and follow the ‘how to cook’ instructions, above.


  • Mix 200g apple jelly (or use 100g brown sugar) with 200ml broth and a cinnamon stick. Boil until syrupy. Brush on to the ham, following the ‘how to to cook’ instructions, above.


Braised red cabbage and mashed potatoes, and roast apple, quince and pear relish:

Roast apple, quince and pear relish


enough for six to eight people


  • 1kg fruit (a mixture of red apples, quince and pears)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 crushed garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp sea salt flakes
  • 1 tbsp cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp nigella seeds


  1. Preheat the oven to 200C/180C fan/Gas 6. Quarter the apples and quince, remove the core. Cut each quarter into half.
  2. Cut off the stalk and a thin slice base from the base of each pear, then slice across into 1cm thick circles (leave the core in).
  3. Tip into a shallow roasting tin with the oil, garlic and salt. Toss with your hands until well coated. Roast near the top of the oven for 30 minutes until caramelised and soft. Sprinkle with the cider vinegar. Spoon the mixture into a bowl and sprinkle with nigella seeds.


Turkey, ham and caper pie




  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 2 leeks, sliced 1cm thick and washed
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 350ml turkey, chicken or ham stock
  • 3 tbsp cream (optional)
  • 1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
  • 2 tbsp capers in vinegar, squeezed dry
  • A handful of chopped herbs: tarragon, parsley, chives or a mix
  • About 500g mixed leftover turkey and ham, in chunks
  • 300g all-butter puff pastry
  • 1 small egg, beaten, to glaze


  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/Gas 5. Melt one tablespoon of butter in a large pan and add the leeks. Cook, stirring, until the leeks are wilted and bright green, but not brown.
  2. In another pan, melt the rest of the butter and stir in the flour. Cook for a few seconds then add the stock gradually to make a smooth sauce (give it a good whisk if lumps form). Simmer until it’s the consistency of thin cream. Stir in the actual cream (if using), the mustard, capers and herbs, followed by the meat.
  3. Pile the mixture into a pie dish. Roll out the pastry 3mm thick. Brush the edge of the pie dish with beaten egg, and cover the dish with pastry.
  4. Trim and use the scraps to decorate, and cut a steam hole. Brush with the rest of the egg.
  5. Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden and puffed.

Potted ham

  1. Chop the last scraps of ham, and weigh them. For each 300g ham, add 100g soft butter and a good grating of nutmeg, plus freshly-ground pepper. Some chopped parsley is good too, if you like.
  2. Whizz in a food processor to a rough paste. Pack into a ramekin and top with a layer of melted butter. Chill in the fridge, but bring out an hour or so before serving with toast, mustard and pickles.
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