This has to be one of my favourite dishes. It’s absolutely Irish, but has some twists which come from learning how to cook with Italians, Spaniards and Mexicans. It’s a bit of work (some in prep, mostly in the care you take checking up on your food as it cooks), but it results in a sublime thing which your dinner guests will never forget you introduced them to. Just remember to say you got the recipe from me (I got the inspiration for this from the Guinness site, which has a very decent recipe for the boiled version of this one).
- 1.5Kg (3lbs) Prime Ham Fillet (get it from your butcher, ask for it on the bone if possible), skin on.
- Some pork or bacon ribs or other pork bones (butcher will often give you these for free from their bin)
- Half-dozen cloves
- 3 Spanish (or any large) Onions, finely chopped
- 1 Red Onion (optional)
- 1 Red Bell Pepper, finely chopped
- 3 medium sized carrots
- 2 Spring Onions (Scallions)
- 1 or 2 Bay (or Laurel) leaves
- A sprig of fresh (or a 1tsp dried) Parsley
- 1 can of Draught Guinness
- 3 peeled tomatoed, chopped, or 1 can of chopped tomatoes
- Grapeseed, Sunflower or Olive Oil
- Salt and Pepper
- A pinch of Spanish Pimenton (Paprika) optional
Equipment: 1 Large Saucepan or Pressure Cooker, 1 Sharp Chef’s Knife, Veg cutting board or food processor.
- 2-3 tsps of the best honey you can find (or Demerera or brown sugar)
- More carrots, parsnips, root veg to your taste, roughly chopped.
- (Optional, I don’t) another can of Guinness
Preheat Oven to 180C (400F).
Equipment: 1 Deep Baking Dish
To Serve with Belfast Champ:
- 12 Medium “Floury” Potatoes ( a small bag)
- A bunch of Spring Onions (Scallions)
- 1/2 a bunch of Thyme (or 3 tsp dried)
- 50g (2oz) Irish Butter
- 125ml (1/4 pint) fresh whole milk
- 1 organic free range egg
Equipment: Potato Ricer (makes the spuds delicious) or masher.
(Optional, not the Irish way!) a leaf salad made with lemon, olive oil and Rocket leaves.
In a large saucepan, sweat the onions, scallions, carrot and pepper for 5-10 mins over a gentle heat until the onion is translucent. Add a few pinches of salt and pepper. Remove from heat and place in a bowl.
Wash all the meat under cold running water before use. Score the ham skin and stick the cloves through the slits into the meat. Put a little oil in the saucepan and place the ham in the centre. Slip the pork bones between the ham and the sides of the saucepan. Add the can of Guinness, pouring over the meat. Add back the onion-carrot mix, and the tomatoes, parsley and pimenton. Slide a couple of bay leaves down the sides of the pan and cover. When it boils, lower the heat and gently simmer for as long as possible, but at least 90 minutes. Every 10-15 mins, return to the pan to ensure it’s gently simmering and taste the evolving flavours.
30 minutes before the ham is done, put on the oven at 190C/375F. Place the baking dish in the oven to heat up as well.
You’ve now cooked the ham perfectly well, so if you wish to give up now, work away and you could serve it as boiled ham and rule (prepare the Belfast Champ as below). But trust me, you really want to roast it very slowly to bring out the great flavours we’ve just infused into the meat. So, take the baking dish out of the oven and smear some oil over it before placing your ham in the centre. Pour the sauce from the saucepan over the meat and put the pork bones/ribs around the ham in the dish. Add any more carrots, parsnips, or other root veg as you like, scattered around the ham. At this point some people would pour another pint of Guinness over the meat, but I’d prefer to drink it! Now, take a couple of teaspoons of the best honey you can find (or brown sugar if you can’t) and smear the top of the ham with it. Sprinkle with freshly picked thyme and place in the oven at the high heat to crisp the fat for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 150C/300F and allow to slow-roast for at least another 45 mins. Every 15-30 mins, take it out of the oven and baste the juices over the ham.
15 minutes before the ham is ready, have your potatoes peeled and chunk them into 2cm or 3/4in cubes. Boil gently in a large saucepan for 12-15 minutes (you can tell they’re done when you can stick a fork straight into them without resistance). Drain the spuds in a colander and place in a bowl. In the potato saucepan, heat up the milk and butter, add the spring onions and thyme, and gently bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, simmer for a couple of minutes to poach the onions, and add the butter and the raw egg. Whisk until smooth, remove from heat and add the potato using a potato ricer (or else gently mash the potatoes in the bowl using a potato masher or fork). Fold everything together until it has a glossy appearance. If you have too much potato (if it is too dry) add a little more milk at a time until it’s smooth. Keep warm but off the hob (it’ll burn).
When the ham is done. remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10-15 minutes (this distributes the juices in the ham throughout the meat and is essential for a good result). By all means baste the ham one last time using the juices from the dish. If you like thick gravy, you should remove the veg and bones from the dish and place it over a gentle heat on the hob and scrape it to release the burned-in flavours while condensing it. I personally prefer a lighter gravy so I don’t reduce the sauce.
Once rested, carve the ham and plate up a few slices of ham, lots of the champ, the roast veg, and salad if that’s your thing. Pour liberal quantities of gravy over both meat and spuds. Enjoy!