(This Classic Catastrophe was originally written shortly 3 days after Easter 2015.)
Ladies, Gentlemen, Snakemen, and Other,
We welcome you back to another (episode? issue? Entry.) ENTRY of Kitchen Catastrophes, everyone's fourth favorite series of humorous cooking notes, after the Indiana Famous "Gays in The Mix", where normal, god-fearing Indiana recipes are forced to be redesigned by prominent celebrity homosexuals, which almost result in practically the exact same recipe, but with an edible flower on the side of the plate, and the lingering scent of ylang ylang petals. I'm your host, author, and lost Game of Thrones actor, Jon O'Guin. Let's talk about pigs.
Wipe that smug smirk off your face, Babe. I'm doing the talking here.
Pigs, if you were unaware, are essentially my favorite animal. How and why I came to love a slovenly but surprisingly intelligent animal with a rural past, known for gluttony, loyalty, and loud noises, is a question best answered by a psychoanalyst, who will look you in the eye, and ask if you know what symbols are, at all. I like pigs. I have books about pigs, pig stuffed animals, I watch shows with pig characters. George Clooney had a pot-bellied pig for 18 years. It slept in the same bed as him sometimes. If an animal is good enough for Batman, it's good enough for you or me. Watching piglets get excited and play with puppies, babies, or toys, is one of life's silliest treasures
Despite all of that, I don't object to eating pigs. Ham, bacon, pork. Old timey pig farmers (and modern ones too) put out that you can "use every part of the pig except the squeal." People eat the knuckles, dogs eat the ears, you can make sausage from the blood, pigs are the truest exemplar of the idea that if God didn't want an animal eaten, he shouldn't have made them out of food. (This makes it humorous that pig is one of the more widely forbidden animals in terms of religious diets.) Call me barbaric if you wish, I prefer to think of it as being pre-eminently useful.
In any case, in addition to pigs, I wanted to talk about tradition. NO ONE START SINGING "TRADITION". They can't even eat pigs, people. Geez.
As it was recently Easter Sunday, many of us had gathered with family or friends to celebrate our particular Easter traditions. Church visits, Egg hunts, family dinners, all part of the rich tapestry of America's Easter celebrations. Given that my family sent me to Pullman in shameful exile for crimes unrecorded, that Churches have forbidden my presence for acts unholy, and I'm just not that into eggs, I don't partake in most of these traditions. But, for the last several years, I have held to one Easter tradition: Waking up hung-over. No idea how it always happens that way, but every year, I end up drinking too much on Saturday, so rising on Easter is always mildly miraculous. The OTHER tradition I've followed for the past 5-6 years is: The Cokeham.
The Cokeham, or Coke Ham, if you don't want to make it look a little mysterious when written out, is an amazingly simple and delicious recipe, first brought to me by my friend and former roommate David Reynolds, who now is part of a Korean "Re-Education" Center. Wait, "Education" Center. A school. He teaches kids in South Korea.
Shown here "attempting to smile like you humans"
I'm certain he'll forgive me for using the creepiest picture I could find. Anyway, the COKEHAM. The process is simple:
Step 1. Buy Ham.
Step 2. Cook in Coke.
Step 3. Glaze Ham.
Step 4. Roast Ham.
Step 5. Consume.
So, you're gonna buy a ham. Depending on how many people you're planning to cook for, you want roughly a half-pound of meat per person. I was cooking for myself, and so I bought an 8.5 lb ham, as it's well known I am roughly 17 people. So, you take your ham out, put it in the biggest pot you have, and dump coca-cola over it. There should be roughly 2 liters per 4 pounds of ham. Just fill it up until the ham sits in an ocean of soda. Then peel and halve an onion, and toss it in. Here's a picture of the ham, in the pot, after the first two liter, but before the second.
Less of an "ocean of soda" and more of a "Bay of Pig", eh, Jon?
Screw you, Caption Jon. Anywho, you bring that to a boil, drop the heat to a simmer, cover, and walk away. This thing is gonna take half an hour per pound to cook. Well, that's not strictly true. First, if you didn't let the ham get to room temp, you're going to have to add about 20 minutes. Second, you're not actually COOKING the ham. See, almost all grocery ham is pre-cooked in America, or at least heavily cured. So it's less "Cooking the ham" and more "re-heating the ham." That's gonna be mildly important later, so remember it.
But yeah, you've got... 5 hours to goof off while the ham heats. Spend it on important things you care about most on Easter. Like watching The Flash, and playing board games online with your friends. NNNNNNNNNNNNEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRRRRRRDDDDDD. Ahem. Sorry. Just slipped out. But yeah, whatever. I bought myself lunch. It was a ham and cheese brioche, because if I'm killing pigs today, I'm killing ALL THE PIGS.
Sprite purchased to address the still life-draining hangover that accompanies the holiday. I blame people all being born in April.
Anywho, now's also a good time to check that you have the ingredients for the next steps. For the glaze, you'll need WHOLE CLOVES, GROUND MUSTARD, MOLASSES, and BROWN SUGAR. You will discover that you don't own whole cloves. You feel like you probably bought some for Christmas, but your cabinets call you a drunk liar. So go buy some, and ignore the fact that your cabinature has become abusive. You knew the house was haunted when you bought it, you just gotta stick it through, man.
Anyway, after about 2.5 hours, I like to rotate the ham. Otherwise, you get one part of it that is never actually submerged in the liquid, and that's kinda weird. When you flip it, it'll look like THIS:
Like Ugly Pot Roast?
The dyeing there is completely normal. See, the reason we're cooking in Cola instead of water is that it basically creates a psuedo-marinade, where the acidity of the coke, as well as the heat, is allowing it to permeate the ham, weakening the structural tissues and leaving faint traces of sugar, acid and...whatever cola flavor is. More acid? I mean, let's be real. Coca-cola is kind of terrifying. You can use it to clean toilets, it's so acidic. It's gonna EASILY soften this ham.
Troubling thoughts about sodas aside, you meander off again, and come back in a couple hours to start phase 2.5. Why not 3? Well, here's the thing. This ham is now REALLY hot. As is the Coke. And you now have to lift an 8.5 pound ham OUT of 4 liters of coke, while trying to not touch the pot, the ham, or the coke, with your skin. Do you know many cooking utensils that can support that much weight? Or tongs wide enough to stretch an 18" ham? Not that the tongs REALLY matter, since you literally just spent 5 hours SOFTENING the ham, meaning that focused pressure is going to tear that meat like a fist through polenta. If you don't understand that reference, polenta is like, softer playdoh. But actually meant to be eaten. it's super malleable, is the point. So the next ten minutes involve like, 3 spatulas, the misguided hope that you can grab the BONE with the tongs, which leads to you pulling the bone out, giving it even LESS structure, and a lot of sweating and swearing before you finally achieve your goal:
A meat-filled Cadbury Egg?
In the end, you get it on the roasting pan. And I'm of two minds about my next tip: lay aluminum foil on the pan first. Layer it a little so the whole bottom and the sides are covered. I'm of two minds because it makes clean-up easier. Except where it doesn't.
See, on the one hand, all the fat and liquid that oozes out is gonna get caught on the foil. so's a lot of the little extra stuff, like glaze that slides off, to burn on the foil, not the pan. The problem is, inevitably, some part of the oils are going to bleed through. And when that happens, the foil gets super-glued to the pan. So you don't have to clean MOST of the pan, but now you've got to scrape off aluminum foil from one section with a butter knife. I still say do it, as I think it would take longer to clean all the other stuff off, but I'm not certain.
Side notes about preparation aside, now you make the glaze. Except you totally don't. HA. DELAYED APRIL FOOL'S. You trusted me, and I betrayed you. Classic. Though hurting the feelings of others IS the historic reason FOR April Fool's Day. (Seriously, it was supposedly made to insult French pagans who celebrated the new year on April 1st instead of January 1st. It's name could have easily been "SCREW PEOPLE DIFFERENT THAN US DAY" ) Actually, it's not a prank, I just forgot a step: the cloves. Before you put on the glaze, you cut a diamond pattern into the ham. Just cut a lot of lines parallel to each other, and then turn 90 degrees and repeat. This is called "scoring" the ham, and it's made because, essentially, the crust of cooked meats is ALWAYS more delicious than the center. So scoring meats gives you more exposed meat for crust. Then you stab the whole cloves into every intersection. Or really anywhere. Trust me, the ham's soft enough to stab through the skin at this juncture.
Speaking of, some recipes call for removing the skin. Personally, as far as I'm concerned, it's almost Pork Jerky after the glaze and roasting, so don't if you like that kind of thing. OH SHIT THE ROASTING. Yeah, totally preheat your oven to 450 now. Jesus. I did that, like, an hour ago. Sorry guys. Meant to tell you, got distracted by Coca-cola facts (they like, straight up killed people in South America in order to beat Pepsi in Latin markets). Anyway, score your ham so it looks something like a meat-quilt.
Meat-Quilt. You are certainly a word-smith, Jon.
NOW you make the glaze. It's two tablespoons of molasses, 4 teaspoons of ground mustard, and 2 tablespoons of brown sugar. Then you rub it on. It's gonna be a BLAST. Normally, a recipe would say like "don plastic gloves, and apply". Personally, I haven't used plastic gloves in the kitchen since I stopped eating radium. So just wash your hands, and SLAP THAT MEAT.
NOT THAT MEAT.
Jesus, could you not go one recipe without masturbating? It's been 5 hours, man. Get help.
But seriously, just slap it on, and massage it in. It's fun. The meat is still too hot to touch for long, the cloves are now sticking to your hands and/or stabbing you, the glaze itself is more of a paste than a liquid, and you can feel the grit of the brown sugar in the webs of your hands as you work the ham. It's like the world's most disgusting and slightly painful play-doh set.
Once you've covered all the ham with the glaze wash your hands. Or, you can do like I did, and wash ONE hand, then dry it, so I could pick up a camera and take a picture of my other, filth covered hand, for your amusement.
The shit I learn to take cooking pictures. I had to "hold" the camera by balancing it on my chest for this shot.
Then Wash the other hand, and toss the ham into the oven. It'll only be in there for 10 minutes, so you can prep any side dishes you were planning on having. I made a rice side, and a green salad. When it's done...
Look, I am not, in most cases, a very...excitable man. I can get psyched up about nerdy things, or certain foods. I can get angry at books, or cry at TV shows, but by and large, I spend a lot of time being generally unimpressed with existence, like Daria. But guys, I love this ham. Seriously. I was eating parts of it before I put the glaze on. I was eating parts of it WITH the glaze on, before the glaze was cooked. But if you don't know what happens to this kind of glaze in a hot oven... it's like candy. That's not actually a joke, or hyperbole, you literally caramellize the sugars, coating the outside of the ham in a kind of of candy. the little bits of ham that pulled off while you were getting it out? They're now almost like caramel-ham brittle, with the edges crisp and the middle chewy. The fat has rendered, like bacon, and helped those cloves get their snap of heat into the mix. This ham, two minutes out of the oven, is one of my favorite foods. It's almost holy to me.
Imagine "Ave Maria" is playing. Preferably the version from Clone High, but, you know, whichever you like most.
Anyway, I have to admit, I actually, for all that I just hyped this up, don't even eat it correctly. See, ham is, almost by definition, eaten in slices. You cut the meat against the grain, resulting in thin, tender steaks of the meat. Personally, while this method makes a fine ham, I prefer it as psuedo-pulled pork creation, where I tear off chunks along the grain, getting long soft strands of the meat. I show it cut both ways below, because, in all honestly, there's more than enough meat to do both, and any other way of cutting it you could want.
I am not ashamed to admit that this picture is of roughly 2 pounds of cut or torn ham. And I ate 3/4s of it that day.
But here's where things get intense. and a little weird. Most traditions have some part that doesn't make sense to an outsider. Santa, in Holland, kidnaps naughty children. Florence celebrates Easter with an exploding cart of Fireworks. Every tradition has the step that doesn't make sense. And this one is no different. For, those of us who have shared the Cokeham have also shared of the secret rite: the Hambrew.
"The what?" you mutter, squinting at the word, demanding it make sense of its letters, but balking at the only logical explanation:
Gaze on the truth, and know despair.
Yes, the Hambrew. The hot liquid in which the ham was cooked. Now an amalgam of coca-cola, pork fat, and onion juice. Infused and steeped in itself like a dark, angry tea. You must drink it hot, preferably before the ham itself is even in the oven. Those who taste of it swear that the world has unveiled secrets to them, that the door to eternity cracked open, and they gaze into that which man was not meant to know, and that, when they recover, twitching upon the floor, unknowing how much time they lost to that Apocalypse, that revelation of power, they are never the same.
Alternatively, it tastes like either kinda salty coke or sweet beef broth, with a weirdly unctious mouth-feel.
You don't HAVE to do it, of course. But I mean, everyone else did. It's cool to know that you're one of maybe fifty people who've done a thing. It has a power to it. An unassailable fortress of those who know, and those who can only guess.
Alternatively, it's fun to make your friends do it, and wonder if you looked like that when you flinched, too.
Anyway, Secret Hambrew Cult business aside, get yourself a plate, with your meat and your side, and dig in. And dig in. And dig in. You'll have pork for at least the next three days.
And when you're done after those three days, you can roll out of your house, alive, if bloated and sluggish. An Easter Miracle.
That's totally Bacon Ranch, too. To kill just one more pig that day.