There are few more spectacular things to put on a table than a whole ham on the bone glazed with an almost black crust of sugar and mustard. It deserves very special accompaniments: sweet, spicy poached figs cut the saltiness of the ham (prunes or pineapple are traditional alternatives), and a real parsley sauce, creamy and soothing, mollifies the whole combination into the ultimate comfort food.
Put the ham on to soak in a large bucket of cold water 24–48 hours before cooking (depending on the size of the ham and the length of the original cure – i.e. saltiness). Change the water every 12 hours.
Rinse the soaked ham and place it in a large stockpot. Cover with fresh cold water and add the stock vegetables and peppercorns, plus the herbs, tied in a bouquet. Bring the water to the boil, then reduce the heat, cover partially with the lid and simmer very gently for 4–5 hours. If after an hour of simmering the water tastes unpalatably salty, discard it and replace with fresh boiling water – this will help to reduce the saltiness of the finished ham.
While the ham is simmering away, separate the dried figs if they are stuck together in a block and rinse in cold water to remove any rice flour. Put them in a heatproof bowl and pour over just enough boiling water to cover them. Cover the bowl with a plate and leave for 3–4 hours.
Remove the ham from the pot and allow it to cool slightly. Meanwhile, place the mustard and sugar in a small mixing bowl and add just enough of the rum or whisky to mix it to a thick, sludgy paste. Carefully cut away the skin of the ham, leaving a smooth, even layer of fat over the meat.
Place the ham in a large roasting tin, then score the fat layer with the point of a sharp knife in a coarse diamond pattern, but not so deeply as to go right through the fat to the meat.
Slosh the remaining alcohol over the fat and then spread the glaze mixture all over it in an even layer.
Stud the fat with cloves at regularly spaced intervals. Roast the ham in an oven preheated to 180°C/Gas
Mark 4 for 1–11⁄2 hours, until the glaze is a dark, golden-brown, bubbling crust.
Meanwhile, strain the water in which the figs have been soaking into a clean saucepan and add the sugar and spices. Stir over a low heat to dissolve the sugar, then bring to a merry simmer and cook until reduced to a light syrup. Add the figs and poach gently in the
Syrup until completely tender.
Remove the chilli – the other spices can be left in. If the syrup gets too thick, add a little warm water.
This recipe is from The River Cottage Cookbook special edition. Published by Harper Collins. RRP $59.99.