Your Spiral Ham Needs This Cider-Vinegar Caramel

This sophisticated glaze takes ham to the next level

Published Dec. 2, 2021.

One of the easiest and most impressive ways to feed a crowd is to serve a spiral-sliced ham. A bone-in half ham can feed as many as 14 people, and since it comes cured, smoked, pre-cooked, and pre-sliced, all it takes is some gentle reheating and a little knifework to separate the slices, and it’s ready for the table.

Warming the ham is also an opportunity to spiff it up with a glaze that can caramelize in the oven, giving this meaty helix a gorgeous mahogany sheen. But waiting for that transformation to happen can also dry out the meat. And while the glaze might look appealing, too often it tastes merely sweet and uninspiring. 

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I found the solution: I created a complex, sweet-tart glaze by cooking a caramel on the stovetop and augmenting it with cider vinegar, pepper, and five-spice powder. Since the sugar in the mixture was already caramelized, when I brushed it on the ham after it was heated through (in a 250-degree oven sealed in an oven bag), the glaze needed only a few minutes in a hot oven to acquire a rich bronze luster.

Here's how to do it:

  1. Bring 1¼ cups sugar, ½ cup water, and 3 tablespoons light corn syrup to boil  over medium-high heat.
  2. Cook until mixture is straw-colored, 6 to 8 minutes. 
  3. Continue to cook over low heat until mixture is dark amber—colored and just smoking and registers 360 to 370 degrees, 2 to 5 minutes longer. 
  4. Off heat, add 1¼ cups cider vinegar (microwaved in a bowl first until steaming), whisking in a little at a time.
  5. When bubbling subsides, add ½ teaspoon pepper and ¼ teaspoon five-spice powder. 
  6. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until reduced to 1⅓ cups, 5 to 7 minutes.

But I didn't stop there: Because a glaze only provides flavor at the edges of the ham, I thinned out some of the remaining caramel with ham juices to create a sauce for drizzling over the smoky, salty meat and enhancing every bite.

What spiral ham wouldn’t be better off with this treatment? Find the recipe here.

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