Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Full Monte

My sister Robin and I threw our first Christmas party in 1975. Our oven broke a week or so before the big event, which reduced us to cooking dozens of appetizers in a GE toaster oven. As for baking, we used the oven in an empty apartment in the basement of our building, carring cookie sheets up and down three flights of stairs. Nonetheless, the party itself was a great success, and with a few exceptions, we have been doing it every year since.

Once, my brother-in-law Dave came into the picture, things got a bit more complicated.

Now, in addition to 15 different kinds of cookies, our typical spread includes homemade pickles of various sorts -- including my current personal favorite, turnips pickled in gin.

Then there are the numerous homemade pates, dips, sausages, rillettes, mustards, and smoked seafood, plus smoked, roasted, and grilled meats -- all the ingredients for which come either from local Seacoast New Hampshire area farms or from Philbricks Fresh Market.

It's a labor of love, which this year began in mid October when Dave started curing his own bacon and salamis and baking his amazing fruitcakes. These have enough fruit, nuts, and cognac in them to turn even the most determined fruit cake hater into a fruit cake lover.

While my sister is the primary cookie baker (I assist), I've become the party ham specialist. For years, we resisted serving a ham, but then we met Tim Rocha from Kellie Brook Farm in Greenland, NH. His hams come from pigs raised on grains, bread, yogurt, and vegetables and are absolutely delicious. (Tim's pork is on the menu at Portsmouth restaurants and is available at the Seacoast Grower's winter markets.) Fortunately, I have a ham recipe that's worthy of such a creature.

Legend has it that this recipe was given to Monte Mathews, a New York advertising executive, who was told to "buy the cheapest ham possible, glaze the hell out of it and cook it for a long time."

While I'm sure the recipe does wonders for a cheap ham, I can tell you that it truly comes into its own with one of Farmer Tim's succulent, flavorful hams. Try it yourself -- and watch your guests devour the full Monte.

Monte's Ham
first published in Saveur in Issue #18

15-lb. smoked ham on the bone
1 1/2 cups orange marmalade
1 cup dijon mustard (I've been known to add a couple of tablespoons of grated horseradish to the mustard)
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 tbsp. whole cloves

1. Preheat oven to 300°. Trim tough outer skin and excess fat from ham. Place ham, meat side down, in a large roasting pan and score, making crosshatch incisions with a sharp knife. Roast for 2 hours
2. Remove ham from oven and increase heat to 350°. For glaze, combine orange marmalade, mustard, and brown sugar in a medium bowl. Stud ham with whole cloves (stick one clove at the intersection of each crosshatch), then brush with glaze and return to oven.
3. Cook ham another 1 1/2 hours, brushing with glaze at least 3 times. Transfer to a cutting board or platter and allow to rest for about 30 minutes. Carve and serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 30

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