Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Big Hunks o' Ham and Sweet Cherry Pie

***Don't forget to post any questions you may have for me regarding the project here***

It happened! 8 months into the project and I’ve finally done my first ham. One of the main reasons (apart from my now almost forgotten pork-aversion) was the incredible difficulty in sourcing raw ham.

I got weird looks from the butchers at Rendinas when I asked for a raw ham, or gammon – “No love, you don’t need to cook it, we’ve already done it for you”, and no-one else had any idea what I was talking about. Imagine my delight then, when I heard recently that a fellow Melbournian on the Nigella.com forum had made this dish herself! So I immediately started posting messages asking what cut of meat she’d bought, where she’d bought it, how she’d cooked it and so on. What I needed to buy was a “pickled pork leg”, which was available at a butcher not 25 minutes away from my house! SCORE.

I called up the day before to ensure the availability of the pickled pork, and headed down there this morning, expecting it to be some expensive continental butchery. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was a very cheap Vietnamese butcher with very helpful staff! It was only about $13. I got my “jus’ unda 2 kilos” boneless pickled pork leg, and as he was wrapping it up, he asked me “hey, dis one u, know how to cook it?”, to which mum replied to him in Cantonese. I don’t speak Cantonese, but I picked up a couple of things she said.

Mum: DON’T WORRY… something something…INTERNET…something something… FRIEND… something something… RECIPE!

We got home at about 11am, and I started cooking lunch.


254. Ham in Coca Cola
255. Cherry Pie

Served with: Sweetcorn Pudding from Nigella Bites

Ham in Coca Cola may be one of Nigella’s most famous recipes, but I had never, ever been tempted to make it. Even after 253 recipes from How to Eat, and a new-found understanding of flavours and meat cooking, I had no idea how the mixture of coke and raw ham (or better yet, pickled pork) could possibly be remotely palatable. Sorry to ruin the surprise, but I was so wrong. This ham ended up being one of the best things I have eaten in a long time. OINK!

Pickled pork

First step is to cover the ham in cold water, bring it to the boil and drain it. This removes the excess saltiness. Here is what it looks like when boiled.

boiled pork

Then you put it back in the pot, with a halved and peeled onion, pour a couple of bottles of coca cola over it, and let it boil for 2.5 hours. Needless to say, you have to use proper coke, not diet. Think about it, you want the sugar to infuse in the ham… and would boiling up a distinctly suspect (yet undeniably delicious and drinkable) combination of chemical sweeteners really produce anything edible?

ham in coke

It smells absolutely brilliant while it's cooking, just like Vietnamese soup noodles. (I'm not sure if proper gammon would smell the same though). While it was boiling, I made the corn pudding and the cherry pie.

corn pudding

The corn pudding is a mixture of tinned sweetcorn, creamed corn (oh how divine!), cream, milk, eggs, flour, baking powder and salt. It’s supposed to serve 8; I halved the quantities of all the ingredients except for the corn. Mmm, delicious corn.

To make the cherry pie, you start off making some pastry (this one includes two egg yolks, so would be described as a very rich shortcrust). Then you use it to line a pie tin, and fill the pie with morello cherries, and a paste made of the cherry syrup, sugar, melted butter and flour. My excessive love of pie, in all its forms, is no secret, (check out my pie section in my index for proof). However, this was my first time making a cherry pie, and I was having some issues with it. The pastry kept breaking on me and I basically had to end up wodging it in to the dish rather than neatly rolling it. And for the filling, I went by eye because I was too lazy to measure it, so I was afraid that my finished pie would taste weird.

Open cherry pie

One more thing, you have to roll out more pastry and cover up the pie – I forgot to “moisten the edges” of my pie, as Nigella instructs, and there was some embarrassing leakage out of the sides of the tin as it was baking. Whoops.

I cooked the pudding and the pie at the same time, and let them stand whilst I finished off the ham.

At the end of boiling.

Once it’s cooked, you need to remove the outer layers of fat, and press on a mixture of breadcrumbs, dark muscovado sugar, mustard and coke.

defatted ham

The strip of fat on this particular piece of meat was very narrow, but thick. After I pressed the crumb mixture onto it, I realized there wasn’t enough, so I got some of the bits of fat that I’d removed, pressed them back onto the ham, and then more crumb mixture. And how strange, 6 months ago I was a girl who could barely stomach looking at pig, and today I was gleefully and greedily adding more pig fat to my enormous ham. What can I say? Nigella has really turned me around.

re-fatted ham

Then it needs a 15 minute blitz in a hot oven and voilà! You have ham. (During this time I stirfried some leftover cabbage so that we'd have a proper vegetable too).

ham with sweetcorn pudding in the background

slices of ham

Me: while slicing... Nigella says that any leftovers are good in sandwiches...
Mum: I don't think there are going to be any leftovers!

plate - My dad and brother bizzarely had orange juice; I chose coke.

Hello Ham! It was absolutely, undeniably brilliant. Salty, tender, sweet and crunchy. It's no wonder Nigella republished the recipe in Nigella Bites, and that everyone raves about it. The whole family loved it. And the sweetcorn pudding is the perfect accompaniment. In How to Eat Nigella suggests potatoes as an accompaniment, but the sweetcorn pudding is better. The bland richness of the pudding is the perfect complement for the salty, salty ham. In fact, my dad loved the pudding a lot and suggested that it would be suitable for dessert, served with ice-cream. (Sweetcorn ice-cream is a very popular flavour in Malaysia). I agree with him.

sweet... cherry pie

Check out my pie! Despite the leakage, it still thought it looked very inviting, even if I do say so myself.

As for serving up the pie, Nigella makes two suggestions – “à la mode… or show Euro-cool by dolloping on some good and edgy and far more grown-up crème fraîche”. I had vanilla ice-cream in the freezer (correction: I ALWAYS have vanilla ice-cream in the freezer), and happened to have a tub of crème fraîche leftover from the green goddess dressing, so I put both on the table and let people choose.

As I said above, I was a bit worried about how my pie would taste (what with leakages, botchy pastry jobs and unmeasured filling), but I need not have worried - so far, every Nigella pie has been incredibly good, and this one was no exception. While I was still cutting and serving up the pie, my brother had already started on his and exclaimed, "Hey this is fantastic!". Phew.

Dan: Cherry Pie? This is a really American lunch!

As per usual, I was unable to decide on one accompaniment, (is it my indecisiveness, my desire for variety, my seemingly insatiable need to try everything...?), and I had my pie both ways.

Two-way pie

I have to say, even though I expected the ice-cream to be better, the crème fraîche was the superior choice. The ice-cream, was firm and sweet, but I much preferred the tangy softness of the crème fraîche.

My pie was ecstatically received! Mum thought that the pastry in particular was fabulous (thank-you Nigella!), and we all had seconds. The pie was a bit soggy at the bottom, but no-one apart from me seemed to notice.

This lunch totally rocked. Nigella has 4 ham recipes in How to Eat, and I was actually planning on only making 2 (two are just variations), but now I want to make them all. And soon! Yee-hah.


domesticgoddess said...

the ham in coke and the sweetcorn pudding are a fabulous combination and one of my favourite meals, having made them countless times. i seem to have a taste for the trashy :) YUM! glad they lived up to expectations.
as for the cherry pie, it looks fan-fucking-tastic, 'good enough to leave your family for', as we say in brazil.

Anonymous said...

The resident Jew speaks:
That ham is bloody awesome!!!!! LOLOL. Way to go honey bun!!

Well I guess my Q&A question has been answered. :)

Everything looks perfect; you are fantastic!

(And that pie dish looks familiar!) ;)

Great job!


Randi said...

ive made that ham recipe, but I didnt use a raw ham, i used a precooked one. I probably should have looked for a raw ham and next time I'll do that. The pie looks great too.

Alicat said...

oooo I am so jealous. I wanted to make that ham for Christmas but the plans fell through. Dammit! The cherry pie looks fabulous. :)

markii said...

Looks stunning! Great job on the pie. You know my feelings about pie.


Ange said...

Well I have to say after looking at that recipe for years I have never been game though you may have changed my mind for me with your great review, I had the same reservation, ie where the hell do you buy gammon???? & also it just sounds so incredibly bad for you, all that fat & sugar!!! Will save it for a special night in need of a trash fix!

Niki said...

Hey, thanks for the info about the "pickled pork leg". I've always been really confused about what the equivalent is here. All ham I've seen has already been cooked! I've wanted to try this recipe for ages, and now you've really got me temped. Would you be able to tell us the name of the butcher?