When is a ham not a ham?

Here we are, post-Christmas, in that strange in-betweeny time before New Year. We had a wonderful Christmas – we awoke here in Boston to a snowy morning; not heavy snow, but snowfall nonetheless, and started the day with a walk through the snow, admiring the beauty of our surroundings in unprecedented quiet. We had champagne, and opened presents. We spoke to friends and family across the globe – a bizarre experience given the time difference. And we joined our favourite American family for a re-run of the previously mentioned Thanksgiving feasting. This time, it was beautiful rare roast beef – cooked to perfection, succulent and juicy, with mashed potato, gravy, salad, and a wonderful beany-noodle concoction which I forgot to ask about but which was, trust me, delicious.

As if we needed more food – we then invited the family to our house on Boxing Day, to try and reciprocate some of the kindness and delicious food they’ve offered us since we arrived. And it is here that this story really begins…

First of all, an apology – I had not intended to write about this dish, and so I took no photos. However, the experience of preparing this meal, and the results, were pretty tremendous, and I wanted to share with you, so I hope you will forgive the absence of pictures this time around.

Disclaimer over – I ask you a question: When is a ham not a ham?

A meal that I love, and one which we often have on Boxing Day at home, is a hot ham, glazed with English mustard and soft brown sugar. The ham is boiled first (leaving you with a delicious hammy stock), before being glazed with a paste made from sugar and English mustard powder and baked in the oven. It is a great way to feed a crowd, and you end up with great left-overs… So I thought this would be perfect for my Boxing Day meal this year.

I started to look for an uncooked ham in the stores – in the UK, this is very easy to buy in any supermarket or butcher’s, but here all I could find was pre-cooked ham. I could have bought this, and glazed and baked it, but I was hoping to have the stock – and I wanted to include the full recipe here. So I spoke to the guy on the butcher counter, explained what I was looking for, and he said they had one left in the store, and that it was 19lbs!! Well, I thought once we’ve fed seven of us, there will be leftovers, I can make soup, we can have sandwiches – pretty much perfect.

It was only after we got home that I looked properly at the label and realised it said ‘fresh ham’… that is… pork. Turns out, ‘ham’ is a cut of pig (the hind leg), which is often, but not always, cured. So the answer to the question is:  a ham is not a ham when it’s… a ham.

I hadn’t even thought to check this, because the only ham I’d even come across before was cured. This left me with a dilemma – and a huge leg of pork. In the end, I decided to go ahead, and started looking for a recipe for fresh ham – finally settling on this one from food network. I served this with Delia Smith’s traditional braised red cabbage with apples, cauliflower cheese, and roast potatoes.

I adapted it slightly – partly because I had a bigger joint of meat, partly because I wanted to try and crackle the skin, and partly because I wanted to adapt the flavour of the rub slightly. I was also concerned about the cider glaze being a bit too sweet, so I strained off the juices in the pan to use later for gravy before I glazed the meat, meaning the gravy had a meatier base. The recipe I’m giving you below is based on a very large piece of pork, in case you ever find yourself with a huge joint of meat and wondering what to do with it. However, if you want to use it for a smaller joint, you can follow the basic cooking times of 20 minutes in a hot oven (250C/475F) followed by 22-26 minutes per pound (450g) at 160C/325F. If you are using a meat thermometer, it should read between 160 & 165 at the end of the cooking time.

Roasted fresh ham with herb crust and cider glaze

Adapted from the foodnetwork.com

Serves… many.

Preparation time: around 40mins active preparation time + 8hrs soaking + 8hrs cooking

  • 1 19-pound fresh ham, bone in and skin on

For the brine:

  • 2 gallons (NB: US gallons)/9 litres water
  • 2 cups kosher salt*
  • 1 cup / 240g dark brown sugar
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 cinnamon stick

For the rub, glaze & gravy:

  • 1/2 cup / 120ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup / 8 tbsp dijon mustard
  • 12 fresh sage leaves
  • 6-8 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves only
  • 8-10 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
  • 12 garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 onions, peeled and quartered
  • 1 gallon apple cider**
  • 2 tbsp plain/all-purpose flour
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon

At least one day before you plan to roast the meat, prepare the brine. Score the skin of the meat – cut in diagonal strips across the meat. Cut through the skin and fat, but do not cut as far as the flesh. Dissolve the salt and sugar in the water, and stir in the remaining ingredients. Make sure the brine is cold, transfer to a plastic container (if not already) and then submerge the meat in the brine. If necessary, weight the meat with a plate to ensure it remains fully submerged. Refrigerate for at least four, but not more than eight, hours.

Remove the meat from the brine, rinse well and pat dry. Cover with a clean tea towel or cotton cloth and refrigerate.

When you are ready to cook the meat, heat the oven to 250c/475F. Put the meat in a roasting tin, skin side up, and place in the hot oven for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, reduce the heat to 160C/325F, and roast for around four hours. While the meat is roasting, prepare the rub and glaze. Pour the cider into a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, and simmer until it is reduced to a syrup, skimming the top as necessary. This will take at least 1 1/2 hours. For the rub, place the sage, rosemary, garlic, thyme, oil and mustard into a food processor and blend until it is a coarse paste. Season with salt and pepper.

After four hours’ cooking, remove the meat from the oven and carefully take off the skin. Leave some of the fat on the meat as you will add the rub to this. Place the skin in a tray to one side until later. Smear the rub over the fat of the meat, tuck the quartered onions around the meat in the tray, and return to the oven for a further 2 hours. Keep an eye on the rub and if it starts to brown too much, cover lightly with foil [I did not find I needed to do this].

After two hours’ further cooking, remove from the oven and carefully spoon off the juices in the pan to a saucepan or jug. Spoon or brush the reduced cider over the meat, taking care not to dislodge the rub. Return to the oven and roast for another 1-2 hours, basting occasionally. After one hour, start to check the temperature of the meat – once it is between 160 & 165 remove from the oven.

Remove the meat to a rack and cover lightly with foil – allow to rest for at least 30 minutes and up to one hour. When you remove the meat from the oven, turn the oven up to 250C / 475F and return the skin to the oven on a baking tray to crisp up. To make the gravy – pour the remaining juices from the roasting pan into the saucepan, and spoon off the fat. Add the flour to the roasting pan and stir vigorously, scraping any crusty bits from the pan. Return the roasting juices to the pan, stirring, and heat through. If required, add some water to thin slightly. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary – add a squeeze of lemon juice to balance the sweetness of the cider.

Carve the meat, and serve with the onions and gravy.

Notes:

  • * For those unfamiliar with it – more information on kosher salt is available here. If it is not easily obtainable, I would suggested substituting sea salt.
  • ** ‘Apple cider’ in the US is not the same as alcoholic cider – rather, it is unfiltered, unsweetened apple juice.

A sunny soup to chase away the blues – Thai-style squash soup

Thai-style Butternut squash soup

It’s nearly Christmas! Here in the orange kitchen household, we are preparing for our first American Christmas, and, for that matter, our first Christmas together, which happens also to be our first Christmas without either set of parents, siblings, aunts and uncles etc… This will be the first Christmas in four years together where Noel and I open our presents to each other on the day itself – normally, we open them together early before I jet off to see my parents or he makes the trip to see his family. It feels pretty… momentous. And slightly scarily grown up. Not so grown-up, though that we won’t be watching Muppet Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve – a Pantcheff tradition for as long as I can remember.

So in the midst of this Christmas-tide, I bring you… soup. Not a Christmas soup, but a delicious, warming, sunny soup. Sunny because it is a glorious gold colour, and is spiced so as to warm and brighten. It is also wonderfully easy to make, and a great standby to have in the fridge or freezer over the festive period.

Roasted squash

I love butternut squash, but it is a pain to prepare. I find the skin is usually so tough before cooking that I feel as if I’m a lumberjack attacking a tree if I try and peel, or even dice, it before cooking – and I find this boring and frustrating. So – almost every time I use butternut squash, I roast it, whole, before doing anything else. After even 20 minutes in the oven, it is so much easier to deal with – and if you can spare 30 minutes to roast it, it will reward you by yielding to your knife so easily. It also means that the cooking time in the soup itself is reduced, which can be handy. Of course, if you have more patience than me, you can prepare the squash when it’s raw, but if you happen to have the oven on (because, for instance, you’re making this incredible braised short ribs recipe…) then this is an easy way to cut down the effort involved.

Spice base

My recipe below uses a base of coriander, ginger, lemongrass and chili along with the more usual diced onion and garlic – I also use a small amount of shop-bought thai curry paste. If you don’t have the fresh ingredients readily available, feel free to increase the amount of curry paste – the soup will come to no harm as a result. When I made it, I chopped the ginger and lemongrass fairly roughly, as I knew I was going to blend the soup later – this meant that when I ate the finished product, I would come across small pieces of both which ‘popped’ in my mouth and were so delicious – however, if you don’t like the sound of this, you can chop everything more finely or use a food processor.

Thai-style butternut squash soup

Thai-style butternut squash soup

Serves 6 as a starter or light lunch

  • 1 large butternut squash
  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Small bunch of coriander (leave and stalks), roughly chopped, plus leaves to garnish
  • 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, tough outer leaves removed, and roughly chopped
  • 1 small chili, de-seeded and chopped
  • 1-2 tsp thai curry paste
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 tin coconut milk
  • 1 pint / 500ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • Juice of 1/2 a lime

Heat the oven to 400F/200C and place the squash in the oven, directly on the racks. Roast for at least 20 minutes, preferably more like 30.

While the squash is roasting, heat a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook slowly until it is starting to soften – around 5 minutes. Add the coriander, ginger, lemongrass, garlic and chili, season well with salt and pepper, and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Stir in the thai curry paste, and allow the base to cook for a further 2 minutes. Remove from the heat until the squash is ready.

Once the squash has roasted, remove from the oven and once it is cool enough to handle, remove the skin and seeds. Dice into 1-inch pieces, and add to the spice mix in the pan – bring the pan back up to heat if you’d taken the spice mix off. Add the tin of coconut and the stock – bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently until the squash is tender. The time this takes will vary depending on how long you roasted it for – it will take at least 15 minutes, and could take up to 40 minutes if your squash was only roasted briefly.

Once the squash is cooked, turn off the heat and use a stick blender to blend the soup to your desired consistency – I like mine smooth, but you can leave chunks of squash, if you prefer. If the soup is very thick, add a little more stock or water. Check the soup for seasoning, and add lime juice to taste.

Serve garnished with coriander leaves.

Spaghetti-and-meatballs

Meatballs

So a while back, in my first recipe post, I mentioned that the weather has been cold, but not so cold that you just want stews and the like. And… three and a half weeks later, not a whole lot has changed. We’ve had some really cold days, like take-your-breath-away cold, but they have mostly been isolated days, with much milder temperatures in between. So here is another recipe which hopefully will help tide you through the in-betweeny stage.

Meatballs are a wonderful thing – they are something I order all the time when I’m out. However, so often I find them disappointing – largely because I find that they are too often hard and dry. To me, meatballs are comfort food – and they should tread a fine line between holding their form, but being soft and yielding once you start eating them. I had made them several times, but never quite got it right.

Meatball mix

I was thrilled, then, to discover Angela Hartnett’s recipe, and her trick of using milk-soaked bread to bind the mixture, rather than the more usual egg. Her recipe makes meatballs which are just the most delicious I’ve ever tasted. I have adapted her recipe slightly – I substitute pork for veal, as it is more readily available. I’ve added some chili to both the meatball mix and the accompanying sauce, and I simmer the meatballs in the sauce on the stove top rather than putting them in the oven. The result is a more homogeneous meaty sauce than the original, and you may find that the meatballs start to disintegrate a little if you cook it too long – but there are worse things in life…!

Meatballs cooking

One final thing to add is to encourage you to include the anchovies even if you do not like them (either specifically or fish in general). It is such a small amount, and they really just act to season the meat, rather than adding an overall fishy taste. Also – an apology, because I totally forgot to take a picture of the finished product! We were just so hungry by the time everything was ready, we had devoured it before I remembered about taking a photo. To make up for this, here’s a shot of the delicious meatball sandwich I made with the leftovers… That’s right, six weeks in the States and I think it’s totally acceptable to have a load of tomatoey meatball goodness in a sandwich.

Meatball sandwich

Spaghetti and meatballs

Adapted from Angela Hartnett’s recipe for The Guardian

Serves 4

  • 200g/7oz white bread – crusts removed
  • Milk – 100-200ml (enough to soak the bread)
  • 500g/17oz minced beef
  • 250g/9oz minced pork
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 red or green chili, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp grated parmesan, plus more to serve
  • 4 anchovies, finely chopped
  • 2 400g/14oz tins chopped tomato
  • 100ml red or white wine (optional)
  • Approx 1tbsp olive oil
  • Salt & pepper
  • 400g Spaghetti

Start by making the tomato sauce. Heat a splash of the olive oil in a saucepan, and add half of the onion, garlic and chili. Allow to cook over a gentle heat until cooked but not brown. Add the tinned tomatoes and wine if using, season with salt and pepper, and allow the sauce to cook gently, uncovered, while you prepare the meatballs.

Place the bread in a bowl and cover with milk. In a large bowl, combine the meats, onion, garlic, chili, anchovies and parmesan, and season well with salt and pepper. Squeeze the excess liquid from the bread, and add this to the mix in the bowl. Mix well until all ingredients are combined – you can use a spoon, but it’s easiest to use your hands.

Roll the mix into small balls – I usually aim for slightly smaller than golf balls. Heat a frying pan over a medium heat, and brown the meatballs on all sides – do this in batches if needed, do not crowd the pan otherwise the meat will steam rather than brown. Once brown, remove the meatballs to a plate while you finish browning the remainder.

Add the browned meatballs to the tomato sauce, and stir gently until the meatballs are coated in sauce. Allow to cook for around 15-20 minutes, until the meat is cooked through. Cook the spaghetti according to packet instructions, and serve topped with the meatballs and tomato sauce, and some grated parmesan.

Jerusalem artichoke risotto

Jerusalem artichoke risotto

I love Jerusalem artichokes – so much so, in fact, that I was willing to brave the snow here last Saturday to make a trip to our local farmers’ market in search of them. These knobbly, unpromising-looking tubers are well worth getting to know, if you don’t already. They have an earthy sweetness, and are very versatile – in many ways, you can treat them as you would a potato, they are delicious roasted, mashed, sautéed… Yum.

Jerusalem artichokes

My love of sunchokes*, as they are sometimes known over here, is relatively recent. When I first moved to London, I lived with three boys I’d been at university with, and for a few years, we settled into post-student life – that is, a life in which our alcohol intake and level of responsibility placed on us were on a par with our student years, but where jobs + salaries = better funding… We are all now very grown up, of course. The area we lived in was lots of fun, but one thing we were lacking was a place to buy good fruit & veg locally. The situation has improved, and there are now a couple of good farmers’ markets in Brixton and Oval, but before these were up and running we decided to get a weekly veg box from the wonderful Growing Communities at Hackney City Farm. It’s an amazing enterprise, which, among other things, has an organic fruit and veg box scheme, and which has recently won the Observer Food Monthly award for Best Independent Local Retailer. We had no choice about what we received in our weekly supply, and so I cooked for the first time with beetroot, Jerusalem artichoke, kale.. to name but a few. We also used to receive recipe sheets each week with our produce, and one of the weeks included this recipe for Jerusalem risotto, which I made, and promptly fell in love with.

Preparing the artichokes

This is a great recipe – it involves cooking the thinly sliced artichokes down till they’re a jam-like consistency which melts into the risotto and the end result is wonderful. However, full disclosure: it does take a bit of time. It’s not difficult, but peeling and slicing the ‘chokes, and cooking them slowly till they’re all caramelised and yummy, takes a bit of patience. Once they’re cooking, you can do other things (such as washing up after the delicious curry your boyfriend made the night before…), but you do need to be on hand to stir now and then to make sure they don’t catch on the bottom. And, of course, making the risotto itself does take a certain amount of stove time… I would not be posting this, however, if I did not think it was 100% worth it!

Sauteed artichokes

A word about stock – of course, it is much better if you happen to have on hand/have time to make homemade stock. However, if you’re not able to do this, just use a stock cube or bouillon powder – I use them for risotto fairly regularly as I’m rarely organised enough to coincide making risotto with having stock in the house. That’s my tuppence-worth, for what it’s… worth.

Adding the rice

*I was about to write a slightly scathing ‘pah, why are they called sunchokes?’-type comment, when I realised there is no rhyme nor reason to their being called Jerusalem artichokes, either – and when you see the plant’s flowers, the whole ‘sun’choke thing starts to make sense…

Jerusalem artichoke risotto 1

Jerusalem artichoke risotto

Serves 2

  • 2 knobs butter
  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion – finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic – finely chopped
  • Jerusalem artichokes – approx 10
  • Salt & pepper
  • 200g / 1 cup Arborio risotto rice (or another risotto rice)
  • 100ml dry white wine
  • 600ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • Squeeze of lemon juice (optional)
  • Approx 1tbsp grated parmesan, plus more to serve

Wash the Jerusalem artichokes, if they are dirty, and peel. Slice them into very thin rounds – you could use a mandolin if you have one. Put the slices into a bowl of water with lemon juice to prevent discolouration.

Heat one of the knobs of butter with the olive oil in a medium sauce pan until the butter has melted. Add the onion and garlic, turn the heat down very low and saute for two minutes. Add the artichokes to the pan, season with salt and pepper, and allow to cook until the mix reaches the consistency of jam/marmalade – this can take around 30-40 minutes. Stir every few minutes, to ensure none of the mix is catching on the bottom of the pan. Heat the stock in a pan, and keep warm on the stove.

Turn the heat up slightly – add the risotto rice and allow to toast slightly, before adding the white wine. Cook, stirring, until the wine has been absorbed. Add the stock a ladle at a time – stir regularly, and allow each ladle of stock to be absorbed before adding the next ladle of stock. Continue this process until the rice is cooked to your liking – you may not need all of the stock, or you may need more. If you run out, continue with hot water. Taste, season with salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon juice, if you like.

Take the pan off the heat, add the second knob of butter and the parmesan, and stir until melted. Serve immediately, topped with more grated parmesan.