I’ve never been a big fan of ham. It’s often salty, seldom tender, and quite frankly boring. About the only thing going for it is that it’s a pre-seasoned hunk of meat that will feed a lot of people, which is probably why it’s been a popular choice for parties.
If you can get past the salt though, ham does have an incredible amount of flavor locked up in the meat, which is why I like using it in soups and stocks. One way to quell the salt is to braise it in a sweet liquid.
Fruit juice and even cola works, but after preparing this wine braised ham for a holiday party, I can’t imagine using any other liquid. This was so good and so simple to make it will be replacing my pot roasted chicken as the go-to meal of choice for company.
Some of the salt from the ham migrates into the wine, while the long simmer breaks down the fat and connective tissues rendering the meat melt-in-your mouth tender. The ham takes on the color and flavor of the wine and the sweet honey takes the edge off the remaining salt in the pork.
The best part though is that you’re left with a ham, caramelized onion and red wine stock that can be reduced and turned into a sauce, or better yet; it can be used to cook veggies making for a one-pot meal. Root vegetables work, but in a nod to classics such as bacon and cabbage, and choucroute garnie, I love to shred a head of cabbage and let it simmer in the braising liquid until it’s as tender as the meat.
With only five ingredients, it’s absurdly simple to make and yet the fruit from the wine and the smoke from the meat create a marvelously complex array of flavors that tastes like you really put a lot of effort into it.
Red Wine Braised Ham
- 3-4 pounds salted smoked pork (ham and slab bacon both work)
- 2 medium onions, sliced thin
- 1 bottle red wine
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1.5 pound head of cabbage, shredded
- Place a medium-sized Dutch oven (or other heavy bottomed pot) over medium heat, add about two tablespoons of oil along with the onions, stir to coat, then cover with a lid. Let the onions wilt until they are soft and translucent (about 20 minutes), checking periodically to ensure they aren’t burning. After the onions are tender, remove the lid and fry the onions until they are caramelized (another 15 to 20 minutes).
- Add the ham and bacon then cover with the wine and honey. Turn the heat up and bring to a boil. Continue boiling until you stop smelling alcohol (about 5-6 minutes). Reduce the heat to medium low, and then cover with a lid.
- Cook until the ham and bacon are fork tender (about 2 1/2 hours), turning the meat over occasionally. When the meat is tender, transfer to a plate and add the cabbage to the pot. Turn up the heat to medium high and cook the cabbage uncovered until it is very tender.
- Slice the ham and bacon and serve with the cabbage.
Marc Matsumoto is a culinary consultant and recipe repairman who shares his passion for good food through his website norecipes.com. For Marc, food is a life long journey of exploration, discovery and experimentation and he shares his escapades through his blog in the hopes that he inspires others to find their own culinary adventures. Marc’s been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and has made multiple appearances on NPR and the Food Network.