‘Getting right under those left overs…’
For as long as I can remember, a pig has always been a part of my family’s Christmas procedure. By pig, no I don’t mean me, passed out underneath the Christmas tree with a beer in my left hand, chocolate on my face and my right hand in a pack of Twiglets. I’m talking about an actual ham. Salty and succulent, slicing slenderly down into shiny pink slithers ready to be slathered in some kind of chutney and layered with cheese.
Ham has always been important to my family in the lead up to Christmas Day as opposed to the actual Big Day itself. My mother would take a big joint of ham and over the years have done a plethora of things to it (from boiling, to roasting, to roasting for a whole solid 24 hours) and then the ham would be crowned on the table to use for a multitude of things. It would serve purpose in mustard sandwiches, hold its own as a source of cold cuts with chutneys, cheeses and breads for passers-by, but also be its own crowning glory to have with my favourite combination: homemade chips and a fried egg.
But what about leftovers? Yes, pork is fantastic of its own accord and yes, I am of a culture where taking a piece of ham between the fingers, dunking it in a sauce, giving two shakes over the sink and swallowing whole is perfectly acceptable. But this year, I wanted to do something a little more productive with our leftover ham.
Christmas is always known to be a formal affair. The good silverware comes out, napkins find themselves replaced with luxurious cloths, the carol music goes on the stereo, your mum suddenly got elocution lessons overnight, the dog has a bow tie on – okay, maybe that last one was just me, but what I want to bring to my Christmas is that sense of physical contact with food. Food is obviously, such an important part of everyone’s Christmas (surely!) and I don’t feel more connected to food than when I’m holding it in my hand.
The Christmases in my house are going to be fairly relaxed, almost to a point of being fairly sloppy. My tree is not conventional in that it is a normal green tree (it’s fake, I can’t stand the idea of a real tree bringing all of it’s winter bugs bats and badgers with it) with multi-coloured baubles. I like to play Christmas albums that are sung by the likes of drag queens and reality TV stars. I like to be passed out by 10pm and not sober. This says Christmas to me.
But what I also want at Christmas is to touch my food. It’s that idea of everybody sat around a table, reaching over each other, snatching at different bits and pieces of food, no structure, and hardly even using cutlery. I mean, it’s a structure that I use all year around but at Christmas, I feel that this relaxed approach at the table is almost necessary. And nothing says more relaxing to me than hand food. So with an arse end of pork left, I felt this year, we had to introduce some Mexican carnitas to the festive menu.
A carnita is essentially a piece of meat that has been braised in liquid, shredded and eaten taco style in a soft tortilla. I’ve decided that as this year, we had already braised a ham joint for a few hours in a foil tent (more on that later) so the carnita meat was already there. But as we wanted to do something different with it for a dinner in the lead up to Christmas Day, we reserved half of it to put towards this Mexican banquet style meal. It’s a deliciously intense, salty and smoky dinner that you can also make ahead of time to save yourself some much dreaded stress over the festive period.
Now we already had the pork cooked but I’ll assume that you have nothing but a raw ham joint so I’ll go from there. If you have already cooked your ham (in any way that you’ve done it, skip to the part where I make the BBQ sauce) but if you have a big ass slab of raw pig in front of you, read on. Now preheat your oven to 170C. Remove your ham from the plastic packaging and remove what I like to call ‘the fish net tights’ (you’ll know what this means when you see it). Place a big piece of tin foil into a roasting tin (purely to make cleaning up better) and then place a wire rack into a roasting tin and put your naked ham joint onto the rack. Now pour a tiny bit of glossy black treacle under the pork and into the tin (this will melt and providing your steaming liquid).
We had a joint that was roughly 1.5kg so use these timings as guideline. Cover your ham in foil loosely around the ham but tightly around the tin, even if you have to use a few pieces and make sure each connecting piece is sealed tightly. You’re trying to make sure that no hot air gets into the pan so that the ham steams and doesn’t roast. Once you’re happy that the ham is nestled on its rack above a pool of gooey treacle and secured in a tight tent of foil, slide him into the oven.
Leave the ham in there for 2 hours. While the ham cooks, make your glaze by combining 2 tablespoons of treacle, one tablespoon of Dijon mustard and 2 tablespoons of soft brown sugar. After 2 hours have passed, take your pig out of the oven and remove the foil. Carefully slice off the ham skin (it will probably be a sloppy black piece of skin at this point) and discard leaving a small layer of fat. Score this fat! I’ve done a blog post before on skin scoring, but essentially all you do is grab a sharp knife and draw criss crosses over the fat. Now pour your glaze over, ensuring it gets into all the diamond crevices you’ve just cut.
Now pop the glazed ham back in the oven – uncovered – for another 30 minutes before removing. Feel free to use a spoon and ladle over some of the intense, liquorice scented glaze juices back over the sizzling ham. Finally, remove the ham to a big carving plate and tip any of the treacle cooking juices into a jug and reserve for the sauce later.
Allow to cool. Now this is how we got to this part, however you may already have a piece of ham lying around by which means, this is where we turn this lovely juicy beauty into a carnita. How you shred this meat is to cut it with a knife into a smaller but meaty pieces and then with two knives, just rip at the meat until it shreds.
Allow the shredded meat to rest while you crack on with your BBQ sauce. In a large pan, soften some finely chopped red onion in a bit of butter and chili oil. To this grate in some garlic and add some sea salt. Sprinkle in a tablespoon of smoked paprika and continue to soften. Add a few tablespoons of soft brown sugar and cook softly until the sugar begins to dissolve.
Pour in about 160ml of red ketchup (oh yes, ketchup) before pouring in the treacle cooking juices from the ham earlier (if you steamed the ham my way). Now a tablespoon or so of cider vinegar and Worcestershire sauce. Bring this to a slightly bubble, stirring regularly and taste for seasoning. If you feel you want a little more acidity, add some vinegar but if you feel it’s too acidic, add a little more sugar. Keep doing this until you find the nice, smoky balance you want.
Finally, grab your pulled pork meat and throw into the bubbling BBQ sauce, stirring to ensure the meat is thoroughly coated in the heady, liquorice scented conker-glossy sauce. Allow to warm through and your carnita meat is done. How I like to serve carnitas is to place some soft white tortillas into an oven preheated to 200C for about 10-15 minutes and once it’s hardened and puffed up, remove from the oven and keep in a kitchen tea towel to keep warm.
You a carnita by dolloping the pulled pork onto one half of the tortilla wrap along with any other accompaniment, fold in half and eat with your hands taco style. Other toppings can include some sweetcorn doused with lime and sliced chilies, chopped avocado, kidney beans or simply with some pickle sliced jalapenos!
I would love to offer you a big How-To Christmas Dinner but I can’t I’d love to say that it’s because I’m saving my Christmas recipes for a big glossy six-figure Christmas book deal the truth is, my mother does the majority of the work on the big day itself while I run around behind her eating bits and having my hand slapped.
In all honesty, this recipe actually came as a product of me overcooking the ham this year and being left with dry, dusty ham flesh but cooking lessons are always better when they come from learning from mistakes and this recipe is one of my favourite mistakes. It still has all the treacly, sugary conventions of a Christmas ham but served in the most relaxed manner that really puts the focus back to where it belongs at Christmas: gathered around food, reminiscing, catching up and having more time to get drunk.
Merry Christmas everybody and thank you for a fantastic year. I appreciate every single one of you taking time to read my recipes and this blog has allowed me to do so many fantastic things. Your loyalty has allowed me to write what I love and your support has allowed me to finally love what I write. I look forward to 2017 where I can continue to give you as much honest food talk as I possibly can. I hope you have all had a fantastic year and as always, thank you for coming on this culinary journey with me.
Now get in the kitchen.