Traditionally, we have a ham at Christmas. Usually cooked on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day, it furnishes us with lots of lovely cold sliced meat to accompany the myriad pickles and preserves we receive over the festive period. I am no exception: this Christmas I have personally received five different chutneys. Last Christmas I received seven different chutneys. Needless to say, there is a lot of chutney in my fridge demanding my consumption. A large ham is a good thing to have. We normally roast the ham - last year we did it with a lovely marmalade and five-spice glaze - but this year I thought I'd try braising it, to see if it resulted in a more moist, juicy ham. It did - it was a pleasure to eat all on its own, though even better with leftover braised red cabbage from the Christmas roast and - needless to say - chutney.
Braising the ham in apple juice leaves it lovely and moist. Pork and apple are a classic combination, and work just as well here; the appley flavour infuses the meat but not too strongly. Plus, you end up with a lovely sauce for the ham which you can pour over any leftovers so that they don't languish and dry out in the fridge, but stay wonderfully moist with a hint of sweetness from the juice.
The recipe is simple: put the ham in a pan with some roughly chopped celery, carrots and leeks (two of each). Add a cinnamon stick, a bunch of parsley stalks, ten black peppercorns, and ten juniper berries, crushed with a knife. Add a couple of bay leaves, then pour in enough apple juice to cover the ham (or top up with water if the juice doesn't quite cover it). Bring to the boil and simmer, partially covered, for a couple of hours (this was for a 1.5kg ham).
Then remove the ham to a chopping board, use a slotted spoon to take all the solid bits out of the pan (the leftover veg, etc) and put a bit of the sauce in a separate saucepan. Discard the rest. Vigorously boil the sauce until it has reduced. Use some arrowroot or cornflour to thicken it, and you should have a lovely, flavoursome apple gravy to accompany the ham. Drizzle it over, and tuck in. Good accompaniments are red cabbage, leftover stuffing (though this is perhaps a rather pork-heavy combination for Boxing Day), pickles, baby jacket potatoes, mashed potato, apple sauce, or parsnip puree. Or just eat it on its own, in all its glory.