This recipe is from my first book, How to Eat, with some rejigging (just because it’s not in my nature to leave completely alone), and I don’t apologize for reproducing, or rather recasting, it because I simply cannot urge you to try this strongly enough. The first time I made it, it was, to be frank, really just out of amused interest. I’d heard, and read, about this culinary tradition from the Deep South, but wasn’t expecting it, in all honesty, to be good. The truth is it’s magnificent, and makes converts of anyone who eats it. But, if you think about it, it’s not surprising it should work: the sweet, spiky drink just infuses it with the spirit of barbecue. I have to force myself to cook ham any other way now; though often I don’t bother with the glaze but just leave it for longer in the bubbling Coke instead.
And the salty, sweet liquor it leaves behind in the pot after it’s cooked makes an instant base for the most fabulous black bean soup.
But just one thing before we start: don’t even consider using Diet Coke; it’s full-sugar or nothing.
Yield: Serves 8
4¼- to 4½-pound bone-in ham
1 onion, peeled and cut in half
2-liter bottle of Coca-Cola
For the glaze:
Handful of cloves
1 heaping tablespoon molasses
2 teaspoons English mustard powder
2 tablespoons Demerara or granulated brown sugar
If you know that you’re dealing with a salty ham, put it in a pan covered with cold water, bring to the boil, then tip into a colander in the sink and start from here; otherwise, put the ham in a pan, skin-side down if it fits like that, add the onion, then pour over the Coke. Bring to the boil, reduce to a good simmer, put the lid on, though not tightly, and cook for just under 2½ hours. If your joint is larger or smaller, work out timing by reckoning on an hour for every 2 pounds, remembering that it’s going to get a quick blast in the oven later. But do take into account that if the ham’s been in the refrigerator right up to the moment you cook it, you will have to give it a good 15 minutes or so extra so that the interior is properly cooked.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 500°F.
When the ham’s had its time, take it out of the pan (but do not throw away the cooking liquid) and let cool a little for ease of handling. (Indeed, you can let it cool completely then finish off the cooking at some later stage if you want.) Then remove the skin, leaving a thin layer of fat. Score the fat with a sharp knife to make fairly large diamond shapes, and stud each diamond with a clove. Then carefully spread the molasses over the bark-budded skin, taking care not to dislodge the cloves. Gently pat the mustard and sugar onto the sticky fat. Cook in a foil-lined roasting pan for approximately 10 minutes or until the glaze is burnished and bubbly.
Should you want to do the braising stage in advance and then let the ham cool, clove and glaze it and give it 30–40 minutes, from room temperature, at 350°F, turning up the heat toward the end if you think it needs it.