Tips on how to source, prepare and cook a ‘handsome’ ham this Christmas

We ask another expert how to cook the perfect Christmas ham
Tips on how to source, prepare and cook a ‘handsome’ ham this Christmas


This recipe has been shared by chef Kaylá O’Shea, of Stephen’s Bacon, Cork’s English Market. For more Christmas food recipes see here

THIS recipe can of course be used year round - ham is a versatile and generous joint of meat. Use it for sandwiches, cut a thicker piece from an already cooked ham and fry in a pan for a supper, or simply pick away at it throughout the day directly from the fridge as I am prone to do post-Christmas Day.


The first thing you will need to do is source your meat, ideally a gammon cut and from a local butcher if possible. Gammon is the best cut from the hind leg of a pig, buying the best quality you can afford will ensure the best taste. Whether you buy your gammon from a butcher or a supermarket, check that it doesn’t have added water. This will ensure your ham doesn’t shrink while cooking and it won’t lose its flavour.

Ask your butcher about the size of the gammons they have and whether they offer a half gammon if you require something smaller. 200 grams (or just under a half pound) per person is a decent portion and allows for some leftovers.

Gammons are a cured piece of meat, so depending on your schedule and your fridge space, they can be picked up from the butchers several days in advance. You might order smoked or unsmoked, depending on your preference, though

I do recommend a boned and rolled joint for ease of cooking. A joint that’s been prepared like this will be easier to fit in most pots and easier to carve, ideal at Christmas especially.

As a pork and bacon butcher, customers often ask me if it is necessary to soak their gammons before cooking, I have never found it necessary to do so. Speak to your butcher about the type of cure their gammons have and ask their advice regarding this, it will vary depending where you buy your meat from.

As a general rule, supermarket gammons will not need soaking, they are lightly cured.

Kaylá O’Shea, Stephen's Bacon
Kaylá O’Shea, Stephen's Bacon


To cook your gammon, it is a good rule of thumb to allow 40 minutes per kg (20 minutes per pound), plus another 20 minutes. The first half of the cooking process is par-boiling, this will ensure your ham does not dry out and stays moist for longer.

Start with a pot of cold water, cover your gammon entirely. At this stage, I like to add half an onion, a few bay leaves and approximately 8-10 whole black peppercorns. I also add cloves here, just 4 or 5, however if you plan on studding your ham with them while roasting, it’s not necessary. Bring the water to a light simmer and maintain this throughout, you do not want to actually boil the ham or it will dry out. When it’s ready, remove your par cooked ham from the water carefully and allow it to cool a little on a board. This allows the meat to rest a little and also ensures you don’t burn your fingers doing the next step - removing the rind or skin. Taking a sharp knife, try to remove the skin on the joint without removing too much fat.

Fat is flavour and it will only do the finished product favours. 

Once you’ve removed the skin, score the fat in a criss cross fashion and at this stage, stud the ham with cloves if you like. You might prefer to apply pineapple rings and amarena cherries as well (the sweetness of the fruit counteracts the saltiness of the ham beautifully), though I prefer to stick with a classic glaze. A glaze has two advantages - it both looks and tastes great. There is nothing more appealing than a beautifully glazed ham on the Christmas table.

Pop your ham in a preheated oven at 200ºC for the other half of the cooking time calculated. A foil cooking tray or a foil lined tray will save you heartache when it comes to wash up. Don’t cover your ham. The best way to avoid burning the sugar in your glaze is to apply it during the last 30 - 40 minutes.

I like a few burnt ends so I start with 40 minutes to go. There are a few options here, my two preferred glazes are a classic honey and mustard glaze or a sweet rum glaze.

Mix equal parts honey and mustard together - I like to buy a thicker set honey, something local and raw and a good quality Dijon mustard (the English Market is your best friend for such ingredients). Adding a little apple juice or cider to your mustard honey mix lets it down and elevates the flavour - alternatively, buy a looser honey and leave out the apple juice. The mixture should be runny enough that you can easily brush it onto the meat. If a rum ham appeals to you, mix equal parts spiced rum, muscavado brown sugar and water together and simmer on the hob with some orange peel, a cinnamon stick or both for 10 - 15 minutes until it reduces to a sticky texture. Let it to cool a little, and start brushing it onto your ham.

For best results, reapply your glaze every 10 minutes for the last 30 - 40 minutes of cooking et voila, you should have a handsome Christmas ham!

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