Today, I'd like to defend Nigella Lawson. The considered opinion among foodie-types seems to be that she's mental - gimmicky recipes full of novelty liqueurs, far too much finger licking and dressing-gowned midnight snacking, not a proper chef and not a proper recipe inspiration. And I do understand these criticisms, truly I do. I find her TV programmes toe-curlingly embarrassing to watch. But nonetheless, my central thesis stands. I genuinely, honestly think she's fantastic.
For one thing, all her early books in particular (How to Eat, Feast, Domestic Goddess) are really great. They're stuffed full of interesting, easy, tempting dishes for all sorts of occasions, from "oh god I've got ten people coming over after work tomorrow" to "it is so cold and dark outside, I want to eat something comforting while snuggled under a blanket". Her recipes may not always be 100% reliable (I've had a couple go wonky on me) and some - although not all - are heart-stoppingly unhealthy. But lots are absolutely magnificent, true showstoppers which I make over and over again. If nothing else, she provides great inspiration for those of us without fancy knife skills or chef training to have a go at making something delicious. So, in summary, I think she's great. So there!
This particular recipe is a Nigella classic. She inspired me to try cooking ham in the first place (because really, who does that?), and then inspired me never to try making it any other way. This ham is sweet and spicy and salty and savoury and succulent, delicious both hot and cold. I can't even describe to you how amazing the little almost-burned nuggets around the edge are. Seriously, just try a bit from the edge.
In true Nigella style, this recipe is a) easy, b) impressive, c) a bit gimmicky, and d) I'm saying it again, delicious. Although it takes time, there's very little work for you to do and the smell in your kitchen is definitely worth it. I think this is at its best with some kind of sloppy vegetable on the side - cauliflower cheese, potato dauphinoise, stewed red cabbage, something like that - but it's also brilliant cold and sliced in a sandwich. Either way, I guarantee you'll enjoy it. All thanks to Nigella! See, I told you she was great.
Nigella's Ham in Coca-Cola
From every Nigella book ever, not to mention her website
- 1 joint of gammon/bacon (not sure what the difference is, to be honest)
- 1 big bottle of full fat coke
- 1 onion, peeled and cut in half
- a few dessertspoonfuls of demerara sugar
- a few dessertspoonfuls of mustard (or if you want to follow her recipe exactly, mustard powder and treacle - I just used what we had)
To start with, you have to address the issue of excess saltiness - either rinse the meat under cold water, like the nice man in the farmers' market told us to do (yes, this was very posh ham), or follow Nigella's suggestion by covering it in cold water, bringing the water to the boil then pouring it away.
Whichever one you choose, do that then plonk the ham in a saucepan, skin side down. Try to use a saucepan that the ham only just fits into, otherwise you'll need gallons of coca-cola. Chuck in the onions and pour over coca-cola until the meat is covered.
Bring to the boil over a medium-high heat. Yes, I know it's difficult to tell when it's boiling and when it's just the coke fizzing, but you'll have to trust your instincts. Then reduce the heat to a good simmer, stick a lid on the pan and simmer for about an hour per kilogram. Just before it's done, preheat the oven to full whack.
Once the time is up, line a roasting tin or baking tray with foil and carefully lift the ham out of the coke onto the tray, skin side up. Cut off the skin, leaving a thin layer of fat on top of the joint, and chuck the skin away. Score the fat with a sharp knife into diamond shapes, then spread a generous dollop of mustard over the top and scatter with a good handful of demerara sugar. She says to stud the top with cloves but no one likes eating cloves - fact - so I just left them out.
Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes or until the glaze is burnished and bronzed. Slice, eat, marvel at the deliciousness of the crunchy edge bits. And the tender middle bits. Well, all of it really.