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Ham in Madiera

Recipes from Agnes Jekyll and Jane Grigson

As noted in the lyrical, the recipe of Dame Agnes Jekyll for ham ‘boiled’ with Madeira runs to less than two lines and is more a concept than a guide. With apologies to the memory of Aggie, here is our guide to preparation of the dish. We have two commonsense variations, one for a large ham to serve a crowd and the other for four people. Ironically the simpler recipe applies to the bigger ham, but neither variation is difficult. To prevent destruction of the smaller batch, we ‘forced’ the Madeira bath by precooking some aromatics in it before simmering the ham. The ham and its vegetables pair nicely with mashed celeriac.

HamFour servings:

- 1/3 - ½ bottle Madeira
- a like amount of pork or ham stock
- 2 bay leaves
- a carrot
- a stalk of celery with its leaves
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
- an onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
- about 10 peppercorns
- a slab of good smoked ham weighing about 2 lb
- 4 more carrots, peeled, trimmed and cut into 2 inch lengths
- 4 more celery stalks, trimmed and cut into 2 inch lengths
- about 2 cups peeled pearl onions

  1. Dump the Madeira and stock into a pot big of a circumference just wide enough to hold your ham along with the bay, carrot, celery stalk, mustard, chopped onion and peppercorns.
  2. Bring the pot to a rolling boil for five minutes, then reduce the heat to medium low and cover it until the vegetables soften, probably in 20 minutes to half an hour.
  3. Fish the solids out of the stock and throw them away; do not worry if some of them stay behind.
  4. Reduce the heat to a simmer, lay the ham into the pot and cook it for 10-15 minutes.
  5. Spoon the cut celery and carrots onto the ham along with the pearl onions, bring the pot to a boil and immediately reduce the heat to a simmer.
  6. Partially cover the pot and cook the food until the vegetables are done to your liking; a bit of snap is nice but so is the traditional softer manner: Your choice. The process should take from half an hour until… , depending on your taste, but kitchen conditions vary so check on your vegetables with a fork occasionally.

More servings:

This is simpler, because you need not worry as much about reducing your monster ham to a pile of string, especially if it is a fresh ham or a ‘city’ ham that is brined. You therefore need not force the flavor of the cooking liquor before adding the ham to the pot.

  1. The ingredients for step one are the same as for four servings, except that you will need the entire bottle of Madeira and enough stock or, with the big ham that will simmer for some time, water, to barely to cover the ham. Choose a pot that holds your ham snugly. There is no need to discard the first tranche of vegetables and seasonings.
  2. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, skim any scum that rises to the surface, then bring the liquid back to a boil, discard any more scum, and reduce the heat to the barest simmer; only the occasional bubble should appear on the surface of the liquid.
  3. Cooking time depends on the size of the ham. For hams weighing up to about 4 lb, figure on 30 minutes per pound plus 20 minutes. For bigger hams weighing as much as 10 lb, you need proportionately less time: Figure on about 20 minutes per pound plus 15 minutes. Even bigger hams take correspondingly less time per pound. A 12 pounder should need a little under 3 ½ hours; 14, a little over 3 ½; 16, about 4 hours; 18, a little over 4 hours; 20, about 4 ½; and so forth.
  4. As with the recipe for a smaller slice of meat, the point when the vegetables should go into the pot depends on how firm or soft you want them. In no event should they require more than an hour. The amount of vegetables depends on how many people you are serving and how enthusiastic they are about their vegetables. We cook lots.
  5. Remember that you will lose heat upon the addition of this second tranche of vegetables; increase the heat at that point until it boils, then bring it back down to a simmer and carry on.


- We prefer a smoked ‘country’ ham with a firm texture for the smaller version of the recipe because its flavor is more forward and does not require a longer cooking time to develop and infuse the vegetables. Either ‘country’ or wet-cured ‘city’ hams are fine for the bigger version of the recipe.

- Obviously you should add whatever vegetables you like. Parsnips, potatoes, white turnips (not yellow ones; they will overwhelm all other flavors), cabbage....

- Depending on your ham, you may need to peel away the skin after cooking.

- There is no need to glaze this ham, but if you want to glaze it, then remove it from its bath 30 minutes early, score it with a diamond pattern, paint it with glaze and roast it at 375° until “the glaze can melt to a delicious crusty sheen--be careful that the sugar does not melt and burn.” Now we have gotten a little ahead of ourselves, so it is necessary to backtrack and discuss the assembly of the glaze itself. Jane Grigson, who also wrote the passage quoted in the last sentence, offers sound advice:

“Everyone can concoct their [sic] own glazes, but the thing is to have a basic mixture of mustard (either dry or French mustard) and sweetness (brown sugar, marmalade, redurrant jelly and so on). If you do not intend to score the meat, add a couple of spoons of breadcrumbs to the glaze which will add a textured coating.” (Jane Grigson’s English Food, London 1992, 178)

Mrs. Grigson’s basic formula:

Hanging Ham Sack- 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 Tablespoon brown sugar, or melted apricot jam, marmalade or redcurrant jelly
- 1 Tablespoon heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon or cloves
- 2 heaped tablespoons breadcrumbs (optional)

An alternative to the Dijon mustard is a Tablespoon of dry mustard dissolvd in enough Guinness to make a paste. One more sage word from Mrs. Grigson. When you pop your ham into the oven for glazing,

“[t]he addition of a few spoonfuls of the boiling liquor is a good idea: when the time is up, remove the meat to a serving dsh, boil up the juices in the pan and turn them into a sauce by adding wine, or a fortified wine, or some cream.” (English Food 178)

In our case, add Madeira. We used Blandy’s rainwater, both in boiling the ham and for the sauce, an off dry blend that is relatively inexpensive. It lacks the character of better bottles but works well here.

We like to serve mashed celeriac with this ham. Some recipes specify 2 parts celery root for each part of potato, and also advice the reader to boil them separately. We do neither. Celeriac holds a lot of water, so we boil up equal amounts of peeled celeriac and potato cut into uniform chunks. At 1:1, the mash still tastes predominantly of celery and the texture is improved. Once the vegetables soften, we drain them, mash them, return them to their pot on low heat, add some cream, then butter, salt and white pepper, and get them to the table as fast as we can.