I’ve been nibbling away on my mom’s leftover holiday ham for over a week now. We had slices of the savory sweet ham on Christmas Eve, then she packed it up for each of us kids to take home with us. There was so much leftover – Mom baked 20 pounds of ham – that she carefully used her scale to portion the ham out and then froze lots too. I’m sure we’ll be eating her ham futures during 2010. (The photo above is of her finished products, before slicing.)
But that’s okay because I love ham — pork is the go-to meat in the Vietnamese kitchen. If it’s not grilled like the Vietnamese restaurant-style lemongrass pork steaks I mentioned last week, then it’s simmered in caramel sauce, or made into cold cuts for stuffing into banh mi. But then there’s the ham – which is nothing but a fore or hind leg of a pig. My family has had a love affair with with American-style baked ham ever since we were first gifted our first Honey Baked ham for Christmas.
Secret to injecting flavor into honey baked ham
That went on for a few Christmases and then one day, my mom decided to make her own. She wanted to figure out how to imbue the ham with flavor. My father, ever the tinkerer, suggested that we inject the ham with honey as that’s what Honey Baked Ham must do.
So my oldest sister, a pharmacist who had access to medical equipment, brought a few giant syringes and needles home. Our family shot, squirted and made a number of Honey Baked ham knockoffs that we enjoyed for practically every occassion – Easter, Christmas, family reunions, birthdays – over the course of many years. We never tired of it and my mom kept refining her technique.
I’ve been in charge of Christmas Eve dinner for about 10 years now but in 2009, I was too busy to manage the entire meal. My mom took over and she brought back her ham. Ever the frugal Viet cook, she got an 88 cents a pound deal on ham at a local supermarket and came home with 2 butt portions. In the first photo below – she explains that the butt portion doesn’t have as much skin as the shank portion, making it less wasteful and a better cut to use. She used to use the shank portion, as mentioned in her handwritten recipe card. Finally, Mom's organizing the ham for freezing.
The flavor was delicately sweet and savory throughout. I wondered what mom’s secret to making her honey baked ham. “Are you making dad inject the ham these days?” I asked. I stopped doing that long ago, she said and revealed that she soaks, simmers, then bakes the ham.
“Injecting the ham put too many ugly holes in the meat,” mom explained. Her three-part technique removes some of the saltiness from the cured ham, then infuses it with flavor. That’s my brilliant mother. Here’s her honey ham recipe – translated and scaled down from her recipe card (pictured above) — for you to try out!
Honey Baked Ham with Red Wine and Orange Rind
A fancy spiral cut ham won’t work as it’s been precut. If you’re doubling the recipe, my mom suggestes using a roasting pan and putting a metal rack at the bottom to make turning the hams easier. For the wine below, Mom uses Gallo jug wine. Seriously.
Serves 10 to 12 people
1 cured bone-in ham, shank or butt portion, about 7 pounds
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cups burgundy wine (e.g., light red wine, such as pinot noir)
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
Rind of 1 or 2 Navel oranges (use orange peel and white pith), cut into narrow strips
1. Cut off any skin and fat from the outside of the ham. Soak the ham in water overnight or longer (8 to 12 hours), changing the water midway through. Use a large stockpot or tub for the soaking.
2. Drain the ham, rinse it and pat it dry with paper towel. Put the ham along with the honey, sugar, wine, whole cloves and orange peel in a large pot – big enough to fit everything. The ham will not be fully covered. Bring things to a simmer, then lower the flame to maintain a vigorous simmer for 30 minutes. Halfway through, use tongs to turn the ham to ensure that all the meat is exposed to the seasonings. Set aside.
3. Preheat the oven to 375F.Transfer the ham and all its seasonings to an aluminum foil-lined roasting pan. Cover the pan with aluminum foil, then roast for 30 minutes. Remove the foil, lower the heat to 300F and continue to baking for another 15 minutes.
If you have secrets for making honey baked ham, or tips for eating one up, don't hold back. Share your insights!