Hamming It Up

Kristen Frederickson

Kristen Frederickson › What part of liv­ing bliss­fully in New York and own­ing an art gallery ...


There are problems when you move to any foreign country. Mostly problems of communication. Lots of people might think that this problem would be solved by moving to a country that “speaks the same language you do.” It’s harder than you think.

Take, for example, an American that wakes up one day and says to herself, “Self, it’s time to roast a ham.” (Because a good ham is the meat that keeps on giving – more on this later…) Off she goes to the meat counter of her local food shop, where she searches in vain for ham. Yet out of the corner of her eye, she spies something that looks like a ham, is shaped like a ham, even smells like a ham… but it’s labeled “gammon joint.” What’s that?

By now she realizes that Americans and British are, as Winston Churchill (or was it Oscar Wilde?) said, “two peoples separated by a common language,” so she is encouraged to ask the butcher, “What is the difference between gammon and ham? And while you’re at it, what joint are we talking about?”

And here the confusion begins, because the answer is, “Gammon IS ham, and something called a joint isn’t necessarily a joint.” Let me explain.

The term “gammon” refers to the portion of the leg that’s just adjacent to the belly (the same portion Americans refer to as “ham”) when it is uncooked. Gammon is always cured, usually in a salt brine, but it can be done in a dry brine as well. After curing, gammon can either remain unsmoked or be smoked, thus allowing one to buy a “smoked gammon” or an “unsmoked gammon.” However, once cooked, both kinds of gammon become known as “ham.” Gammons are commonly roasted for the main dish of Sunday lunch, especially around the major holidays.

So now you know.

How about “joint”? In America, we tend to think of meat joints as involving balls and sockets, perhaps a shoulder of lamb or a leg of pork. But in England, the term “joint” simply means the large cut of meat roasted and served for Sunday lunch. Probably, in the olden days, the large cut of meat did involve a ball and socket. However, as households gradually diminished from the Victorian days of a dozen children to today’s lone resident cooking maybe once a month, the term “joint” has evolved to mean a piece of meat meant to feed more than one for one meal.

And therein lies the beauty of a “joint of gammon”. Buy it, take it home. It’s the sort of cut that will last out your family’s appetite for a week. Maybe that’s why it’s called a “joint” – because it’s a joint effort between you and the kids to make every delicious ounce of it count.

So, you have your joint – either bone in or bone out, but a bone will provide you with soup later – and you’ve invited some friends over for a traditional Sunday lunch. You can cook it wet (in water and whatever seasonings you like, bay leaves are key), or dry (in a roasting tin covered with a mixture of Lyle’s Golden Syrup and good, strong, English mustard). No matter how you cook it, you will want to serve your roast with some lovely potatoes, gratinéed with cheddar or boiled and tossed with butter and parsley, and a good hearty green vegetable such as Brussels sprouts. The lunch is an assured success.

The day after your Sunday roast, that joint, whether containing a bone or not, is staring you in the face. “You bought me for more than one meal, right?” he says. “Of course,” you answer bravely. And this is when you make “ham mayonnaise”, not ham salad (which is only ham and some lettuce in Britain). Save some slices of the best ham for the next day (trust me here), and cut the rest – even some of the luscious white fat – into chunks. Feed these into your food processor with a handful of capers, a handful of cornichons, a red onion, and the juice of half a lemon. Pulse until it’s the consistency of… ham salad. That’s all I can say. Stir in some mayonnaise, and you’re there.

Now, day three. Scramble two fresh, pastured eggs with a bit of cream, and fry up a couple of slices of leftover ham. You will never have a better breakfast.

And before you know it, it’s lunchtime. Find a loaf of good English wholemeal bread and toast two slices. Slice up a red onion, a ripe avocado, and a bit of Cheddar. Slather that toast with spicy mayo – mayonnaise with a dash of chili sauce – and pile everything up. Lightly butter the outside of the slices and grill it. It will be the best grilled cheese you ever dreamed of. Heaven on a plate.

And finally, day four. Maybe you didn’t think there would be a day four, but you have that BONE! In a pot big enough to hold it, cover it with water and add a quartered onion, a cut-up carrot, and several sliced spines of celery. Simmer it all day to make a wonderful ham stock and then follow my recipe for “United States Senate Bean Soup”.

After ALL that, you will be able to say, hand on heart, that you and your family made a joint effort to enjoy every last delicious, economical and varied ounce of the gammon’s existence. How good does that feel?

Here, in terms both sides of the Atlantic can understand, are the titles of all these dishes:

Roast Ham (Roast Gammon Joint)

Ham Salad (Ham Mayonnaise)

Ham Sandwich (Ham Sarnie)

Ham and Eggs (Ham and Eggs)

What are your favorite fresh ham recipes?

Photo Credit: Avery Curran