Glazed Christmas ham and pickled cherries

I think of cherries as a festive fruit – because of when they’re in season and what they cost. They’re also a fruit that works well with meat: duck or ham, in particular.

For this recipe, I use a sweet variety of cherry but I pickle it in vinegar to balance the sugars with a sour finish. In turn, it works beautifully with the richness of the ham. I say richness – I was trying to find a friendly word for fattiness, but there’s just not one.

The cherries have various spices added to them, reminiscent of Christmas flavours, in particular fruit mince pies. 

One thing about pickling cherries, because of the amount of moisture in the fruit, is that they don’t last much more than a week. Still, I often find I hold on to the jar longer than the cherries are good for. The pickling solution itself just improves and from time to time I will take a tablespoon from the jar to use in sauces or dressings. A nice spiced cherry flavour continues to develop long after the cherries themselves have given up. 

A few things at Christmas can be disappointing, but none more so than not getting a good glaze on a ham. It is almost as bad as roasting pork and not getting crackling.

The key is ham-to-oven ratio – the classic round peg in the square hole. Try to find a ham that is not too cramped, that won’t take up too much of the oven. There needs to be a good volume of hot air around the joint. Fan-forced is helpful but not essential.

Scoring the ham is also important, and a pleasurable ritual. The skin should be removed, and with a kitchen knife you cut through the fat but not quite to the flesh. 

I start the joint in a hot oven, basting constantly. As it starts to colour, I turn the oven down allowing it to warm through. Preferably, this should be done the day it’s served. The day after, and the day after, and the day after that, it is best eaten in a sandwich. Which in some ways I prefer to the main event.


1 . Glazed Christmas ham and pickled cherries

Serves up to 12 people with plenty left for sandwiches the next day

– 4 cups stout

– 2 cups brown sugar

– 1 cup fresh orange juice, strained

– 2 wide strips orange peel

– 1 cooked ham on the bone, skin on

– whole cloves (about 3 tbsp )

Preheat the oven to 200ºC.

To make the glaze, place the stout, brown sugar, orange juice and peel in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat and reduce the mixture by half, or until it is slightly syrupy.

Using your fingers and the tip of a knife, carefully peel the skin from the ham, leaving as much of the fat underneath as you can.

With a sharp knife, lightly score the fat in a diamond pattern and stud the diamonds with cloves.

Line a heavy roasting tin with baking paper and place the ham in it along with one cup of water.

Bake the ham for 20 minutes to warm it through before glazing.

Take it out of the oven and pat the glaze all over the ham with a pastry brush.

Return the ham to the oven and bake, reapplying the glaze every 10-15 minutes, until the ham is deeply coloured and sticky.

Pickled cherries

– 500g cherries

– 350g sugar

– 425ml white vinegar

– 12 peppercorns

– 6 allspice berries

– 3 bay leaves

If you have a cherry pitter, use that to pit the cherries. If not, cut the cherries in half and ease out the pit. Keep the pits to add to the pickling liquid.

Place the sugar, vinegar, peppercorns, allspice, bay leaves and cherry pits in a saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and leave the syrup to cool. Once cool, strain the syrup over the cherries and leave them to macerate for a few hours before serving.


2 . Ham and three cheese sandwiches

Makes 6-8 sandwiches, depending on the size of the bread used

– 200g cream cheese, at room temperature

– 200g cheddar cheese, grated

– 60g parmesan cheese, finely grated

– 8-12 slices sourdough bread

– sliced ham, left over from the Christmas feast (about 480g)

– seeded mustard

In a bowl, mash the cream cheese, cheddar and parmesan until they are well amalgamated.

Lay the sliced bread on your work surface. Spread half of the slices generously with the cheese mixture and top them with ham.

Spread the other half of the bread with seeded mustard and place them on top of the ham to complete the sandwiches.

Toast the sandwiches in a lightly greased sandwich press, or in a greased, heavy-based frying pan, flipping them over halfway through cooking to toast both sides and ensure the cheese filling melts.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Dec 19, 2015 as "Ham nation".

A free press is one you pay for. In the short term, the economic fallout from coronavirus has taken about a third of our revenue. We will survive this crisis, but we need the support of readers. Now is the time to subscribe.

Andrew McConnell
is the executive chef and co-owner of Cutler & Co and Cumulus Inc.

Our journalism is founded on trust and independence

Register your email for free access or log in if you already subscribe

      Keep Reading                 Subscribe