Flavorful and easy, perfect for celebrating
Need a festive dish that can feed a crowd? Maybe something for Easter dinner, or a graduation party?
Enter Braised Ham with Port. It’s more succulent than baked ham, and just as easy to prepare. Those who know only its baked cousin will be delighted to meet this dish.
But accept your guests’ accolades with modesty. No need to ham it up.
Recipe: Braised Ham with Port
We use ruby port in this recipe, but you could substitute dry Madeira. Or red wine. Or even cider.
Boneless or bone-in ham? Bone-in has better flavor, but boneless is easier to carve. You could even substitute picnic ham if you wish. (See Notes for discussion about ham choices.)
How much ham to use? When using bone-in, we usually opt for half a ham. We generally select a shank half (it’s easier to carve), but you could use a rump half if you prefer. You’ll need about ½ pound of ham per person. And don’t forget: You’ll want some leftovers.
Our recipe is influenced by one we found in All About Braising by Molly Stevens. Julia Child also has an excellent recipe in From Julia Child’s Kitchen.
Prep time for this recipe is about 15 minutes. Cooking time adds another 2 hours or so, most of it unattended.
Leftover ham keeps well for several days if refrigerated in an airtight container.
- 1 large onion
- 2 large carrots
- 3 ribs celery
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme (or other herb of choice; see Notes)
- 2 cups ruby port wine (can adjust the quantity if you prefer; see Notes)
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 6 to 8 pound ham
- Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
- Peel the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic. Roughly chop the first three; mince the garlic. Set all aside.
- Place a large Dutch oven or braising pot over medium stovetop heat (use a cooking pot that’s large enough to hold the ham comfortably – probably one that holds 6 or 7 quarts). When the cooking pot is hot, add the oil. When the oil is heated (it’ll shimmer – about 15 seconds), add the chopped onion, carrots, and celery. Sauté for 5 minutes.
- Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Then add the thyme, the port, and the chicken stock. Simmer for 10 minutes.
- Add the ham to the cooking pot. Bring the liquid back up to a simmer. Then cover the cooking pot with aluminum foil, scrunching the foil down in the “empty” portions of the pot to help reduce the empty airspace above the braising liquid (this makes for a better braise). If the lid of the pot fits over the ham (it may not), cover the pot with it. Otherwise, crimp the foil around the edges of the pot to form a tight seal.
- Place the ham in the oven. If you’re using a cooked (“ready-to-eat”) ham, cook it for 1¾ to 2 hours (until tender and thoroughly warm). If you’re using an uncooked ham, add an hour to the cooking time (you may need a bit more time than that; the temperature of the ham should read at least 160 degrees when you insert an instant-read thermometer into the thickest point of the ham).
- When the ham is cooked, remove it from the cooking pot and place it on a cutting board or plate. Cover the ham with aluminum foil and let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes. Meanwhile, pour the remaining contents of the cooking pot into a strainer placed over a bowl (to catch the braising liquid). Discard the veggies. Spoon off any fat from the braising liquid (or use a fat separator). Taste the liquid – you will probably want to reduce it somewhat so you can use it as a sauce. Be careful not to reduce it too much, though – the sauce could become too salty.
- Carve the ham. Serve with a bit of the sauce you made in Step 7.
- If using a half ham, you can place the ham flat-side down in the braising pot if you prefer (it often fits better that way).
- There’s no need to salt the vegetables when you sauté them (Step 3). Ham tends to be so salty that it provides natural seasoning.
- We like to use port as the braising liquid for this dish, but feel free to substitute. You could use Madeira, cider, dry red or white wine, or even beer. We’ve seen recipes that use sloe gin, which also sounds interesting. In any case, you’ll want to use 2 to 4 cups of braising liquid. We always add some chicken stock to the mix for extra flavor.
- Whole hams can be quite large – up to 18 pounds or so. That’s why we typically use a half ham in this dish.
- The shank half is easier to carve; the rump half tends to have better flavor. But ham always has so much flavor in any case that we’re not sure it matters much. So just use whichever half you prefer.
- Any meat that contains a bone will be more flavorful than boneless. But, again, good-quality boneless hams have plenty of flavor.
- What about picnic ham? Well, technically it isn’t ham because it comes from the upper part of the foreleg (the shoulder), rather than from the rear leg of the hog.
- Most hams you’ll see in the supermarket are wet-cured (these sometimes are called “city” hams). They may be smoked or not (we prefer smoked hams).
- Most supermarket hams are also “ready-to-eat” (that is, they’ve already been cooked). But occasionally you’ll find uncooked hams, which must be cooked before consuming. BTW, even when hams are sold as ready-to-eat, their flavor will deepen when you cook them.
- Prefer to use a dry-cured ham (such as country ham) in this dish? That will require some prep work: Scrub off any mold you find on the outside of the ham, then soak the ham for at least 24 hours, changing the water several times. Soaking helps remove salt (these hams are extremely salty). You can soak the ham for up to 48 hours.
- We use dried thyme in this recipe, but fresh rosemary would be wonderful. Or use any herb that you fancy.
- A bay leaf would also be a nice addition to the cooking pot.
“Oink!” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Braising is such an awesome way to prepare ham.”
“It’s really good stuff,” I said. “And that’s no hogwash.”
“Hope you didn’t pull a ham string thinking of that comment,” said Mrs K R.
“Is that how pulled pork got its name?” I said.
“What a ham-handed response,” said Mrs K R. “Hope we’ve reached the end of the pig puns.”
I guess we have. Unless there’s a twist in the tale.
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