Hams are a cut of meat associated with celebratory dining. If you choose to cook a ready to eat, fully cooked ham in your slow cooker, be sure to co-ordinate the meat with the size of your cooker. I found half hams the best fit; even so they have the natural shape of leg, which is easy for slicing. You want 6 to 8 ounces per person with a boneless ham; a tad more for bone in.
Whether you are serving the glamorous or casual at home or taking it to a friend’s, a ham is a delight on the buffet table. Even people who never eat ham will indulge at a party. It is “special” and the hunk looks very impressive sitting on a platter or carving board in all its glistening glory. Make the accompanying Garnet Cumberland Sauce up to a week ahead; it keeps nicely in the refrigerator.
What makes a ham special? There is a moist glaze that will be brushed on; be sure to get a brush from a cookware shop (do not use a brush designed for house painting please). You will be brushing on the glaze two to three times, so it will set and build up. The sweetness of the glaze is counterpoint to the savory saltiness. You can substitute apricot or a chunky pineapple jam if you like, but I like the orange the best. The ham is best cooked slowly, 12 to 14 minutes per pound; otherwise you will have a dried out ham.
And then the big question–what type of ham to buy. There are canned hams (formed from bits and pieces melded together with gelatin), mail-order country hams, picnic hams, aged hams, partially cooked hams, bone-in, and boneless; each has its own texture and flavor. First, unless you are familiar with expensive aged regional hams, such as a Smithfield, don’t bother. A smoked, bone-in ham from the supermarket (it can be pre-packaged and water added is okay), specialty meat shop, or warehouse clubs are excellent as well as more economical. All hams I see are labeled “fully cooked.”
You can choose a precooked ham of any type and cook it beautifully in your slow cooker. The trick is to obtain the right size ham for your cooker. While a 5-pound smoked or cured ham will fit in a large cooker, choose a 2 1/2- to 3 1/2-pound one for a medium cooker. If you have a ham that is already glazed and you wish to heat it, just add the liquid to the cooker and skip the glazing. When choosing your glaze, pick a complementary liquid; the hot pepper jelly or maple glazes like apple juice and the mustard fruit glaze is good with Madeira, port, etc. The following glazes are proportioned for the larger ham, so if you have a small one, cut the recipe in half.
Rarely are there leftovers, but if there are, you might want to cast lots as to whom will take home the bone for split pea or a bean soup.
Have the bowl of sauce and the jars of mustard on the side; guests can choose what they are in the mood for, a dab of mustard or some pooled Garnet Cumberland Sauce around it. Serve with fresh sliced light or dark rye bread, potato rolls, or biscuits. Good alongside scalloped potatoes and a choice of salads (including coleslaw).
Preparation Timeline: Can be made 1 day ahead and refrigerated overnight
Serving Equipment: Large platter or decorative carving board with meat fork and ong knife; deep bowl with ladle or pitcher for sauce, serving spoons for mustards
Serves 4 to 10, depending on size of ham and accompanying side dishes
One 2 1/2- to 5-pound boneless cooked ham, depending on the size of your slow cooker
1/3 cup water, apple juice, pear juice, orange juice, cranberry juice cocktail, sparkling apple cider, gingerale, hard cider, Madeira, or Port
Hot Pepper Jelly Glaze:
2/3 cup hot pepper jelly, heated in the microwave or a small saucepan until liquid
2 tablespoons orange juice or tequila
Mustard Fruit Glaze:
2/3 cup jam or fruit preserves, such as apricot or cherry
2 tablespoons organic corn syrup
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
1/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1 tablespoon whiskey (optional)
1 tablespoon Dijon or other mustard
Orange Bourbon Glaze:
2/3 cup orange marmalade
2 tablespoons bourbon or orange liqueur
Garnet Cumberland Sauce, for serving
1. Coat a 5- to 8- quart slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray. Place the ham in the cooker and add the liquid of your choice.
2. If glazing, in a small bowl, combine the glaze ingredients of your choice and spoon or spread over the ham. Cover and cook on LOW for 5 to 6 hours for a small ham, or 6 to 8 hours for a large ham, until an instant-read meat thermometer inserted in the center registers at least 165ºF. Some cooks like to baste the ham a few times.
3. Remove the ham from the cooker to a platter. Cover with aluminum foil until serving, and let rest at least 30 minutes; serve within 2 hours of roasting. If making in the morning or day before, remove from the roasting pan, wrap the ham in foil, then chill the ham until serving. Slice the ham and serve hot or at room temperature.
Transportation Notes: No special precautions as long as tightly wrapped in foil. I transport in a large paper or canvas shopping bag with handles. Carry the sauce in a covered container or screw-top jar, and bring along one or two jars of mustard.
Onsite/Preparation: Heat the sauce in a saucepan or microwave. For the ham, leave wrapped in the foil, place directly on the oven rack, and reheat in a 300º oven for about 30 minutes, or unwrap and transfer cold to a cutting board or platter with a meat fork; I place the ham au naturale on the cutting board but use a bed of curly kale or watercress for a platter to keep it from slipping. Serve warm or at room temperature. An elegant touch is to wrap a clean white napkin around the end to conceal the shank bone. Carve into thin slices at the table (pre-cut spiral cut hams are really the easiest to serve a large crowd). Arrange 2 to 3 slices per person.
Excerpted from Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Entertaining by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann (c) 2007, used by permission from Harvard Common Press.
The hot-sweet Cumberland sauce is a British invention and served with all sorts of ham, poultry, and game meats. We don’t see it on American tables enough. It is so classic that it appears in Larousse Gastronomique, the French culinary encyclopedia, as a cold sauce for meats, although I like it served warm. One of my oldest catering clients gave me this recipe in the 1980s and I have never found one better; it’s so good I give quarts of it for Christmas presents. This is one of my best recipes and will end up being one of yours. Use your favorite Vintage Port reserved for drinking to make this recipe shine.
Garnet Cumberland Sauce
Makes 1 quart
Preparation Timeline: Can be made 1 day to 1 month ahead
Serving Equipment: Bowl, serving ladle
Temperature at Serving: Warm, chilled, or room temperature
- Peel of 4 large orange, removed with a vegetable peeler
- 2 cups currant jelly
- 1 cup Port wine
- 1 cup orange juice
- 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon Hungarian paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
In the work bowl of a food processor with the motor running, drop in the orange peel and pulse to grind. Add the remaining ingredients and process for 1 minute. Pour into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer 5 minutes, until slightly thickened and clear. Cool to room temperature and store in an airtight plastic container or screw-top glass jar in the refrigerator.
Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2017
Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.