The first time I ever made a ham was for my future in-laws. They were in town for a visit and my husband told them that we'd love to prepare them an Easter meal. By “we” he meant me, but what he didn't understand was that as a Reform Jew I ate pork but didn't have a clue about how to prepare it. So we turned it into a team project. My old friend, Bobby Miller, a chef in San Francisco, came to our rescue and gave us one of his time-perfected recipes. It involved steaming an inexpensive 12- to 18-pound pre-cooked, bone-in Farmer John ham for hours in Vernors Ginger Ale, then basting it with a glaze made of orange marmalade, ground cloves, brown sugar and Dijon mustard.
My husband and I called Bobby at least two dozen times that afternoon beseeching him to give us answers to our nervous questions like, “How do we know when it's finished?” He'd reply patiently, “When the outside turns a beautiful color.” We'd hang up and give each other WTF? expressions. Then, at a certain point, we opened the oven and the ham had turned a gorgeous mahogany. Oh!
But we weren't quite done. As my husband was pulling the ham out of the oven, his mitt slipped and he burned his fingers so badly that he screamed, “FUCK!” right in my mother's face. Another getting-to-know-your-new-family bonding moment: When my future father-in-law asked for his third helping, his wife whispered to him, “I thought you didn't LIKE ham.” He said, “Well, I like this one” and bent his head back over his plate.
Last year, Bobby passed away from complications due to diabetes. Before that, when he was unable to walk, one of his entrepreneurial ideas was to park himself at the local farmer's market with his laptop and a portable printer and dispense cooking ideas to patrons who were carrying armfuls of just-purchased, fresh produce but were stymied as to what to do with it all. If there was a list of his favorite things to do, eating, cooking and sharing recipes would be at the top. So I dedicate this year's Easter ham to you, Bobby. I'll think of you when it turns a beautiful color.
Here is the recipe:
Bobby Miller's Ginger Ale Ham
Besides using Farmer John ham, Bobby would use either Robertson's or Keller marmalade. Note that when buying a bone-in ham, you should figure two to three servings per pound. Allow about 5 hours of cooking time.
3 unpeeled carrots
2 celery hearts, plus couple stalks
1 (9- to 12-lb.) smoked ham on the bone (cheapest variety)
1 (2-liter) bottle Vernors Ginger Ale
1 (12-oz.) jar English orange marmalade
20 whole cloves
½ cup brown sugar
1 (6- to 7-oz.) jar Dijon mustard
Pre-heat oven to 275 degrees.
Roughly chop onions (leave skin on), carrots and celery hearts and stalks, then place in bottom of roasting pan.
Place ham on top of chopped vegetables, fat-side-up. Mark diagonal cross pattern with knife into ham fat. Pour ginger ale over ham.
Cover ham in parchment-paper tent by wrapping parchment around entire pan, leaving enough space at top for ham to steam. Over that, take big piece of aluminum foil and wrap it around parchment-paper tent, crimping ends around lip of pan or underneath pan to hold edges of parchment in place.
Cook ham 4 hours in 275-degree oven.
Meanwhile, warm marmalade in saucepan over medium heat. Grind cloves in coffee grinder. Add ground cloves and brown sugar to marmalade and stir over heat until it breaks down into syrupy consistency. Stir in Dijon mustard until incorporated.
Remove foil and parchment from ham, then spread 2/3 of glaze on top of ham. Turn oven temperature up to 350 degrees and cook ham additional hour in oven. Spread remaining glaze on top. Cook additional 30 minutes.
When the ham turns a beautiful color, you are done.
Makes 18 to 36 servings.