Opinion: Is Christmas ham delicious, or the waste of a good pig?

Stock image of Christmas spread, including ham
Is Christmas ham delicious, or the waste of a good pig?

By Anne Jolly of RNZ

First person: What is it with this country's obsession with ham at Christmas?

I understand that ham is always popular (even fussy children will eat it, because it's bland and doesn't require chewing). But people really go nuts for ham on the bone during the festive season. Giant hams occupy precious supermarket real estate, while recipe websites are full of supposedly enticing glaze suggestions.

I just don't get it.

I have always regarded ham in a meal as similar to lettuce. It's just there to pad things out. It's flavour-free protein. Ham is meat-ish... meat-esque... meat-adjacent. If it's so tasty, then why are cooks so keen to slather it in all sorts of spiced and sticky glazes? Is ham really so bad that we need to put marmalade on it?

It's not that I'm anti-pork. Roast pork is wonderful! It's got flavour, texture and the drippings make the most amazing gravy. A platter of roast pork truly honours the pig that was sacrificed for dinner. Like ham, you can turn roast pork leftovers and make delicious sandwiches, or cold meat salads. You could also do the same with a nice leg of lamb, or even a turkey, for a few days.

A festive leg of ham is not 'for a few days', because it is MASSIVE.

Even a half leg weighs about five kilos. Buy a ham and you are committing you and yours to that thing for possibly weeks. That's why articles soon appear after Christmas with tips on how to use it up. The ham you were so excited about on December 24 is still taking up a whole shelf in the fridge a week later and requires constant checking to ensure that it's properly wrapped to avoid drying out. Ham is also dangerous; each December, about 50 people seek medical treatment and file ACC claims for ham-related injuries (mostly cuts, but also people hurt themselves when lifting a heavy ham or dropping it on their feet).

My advice? Just let it dry out. Stop the torture. Give it to the dog. Actually, don't. Using your dog as a mobile ham disposal unit isn't recommended by vets because ham's salt and fat content means it's not good for our canine companions. It's not that great for humans either. The World Health Organisation has classified ham (and other processed meats) as a Group 1 carcinogen, known to cause cancer.

One colleague told me how she lost the plot on week three of Ham-athon and screamed through the house, past bemused family members, to throw the remains over a bank. The next year, she bought the smallest ham possible.

When I quizzed colleagues on why they persist with this tradition, they told me how a leg of ham is a special occasion food; it's expensive, but a great once-a-year treat. A repeat story was the joy of relaxing on Boxing Day, enjoying slabs of ham in fresh bread, with heaps of butter and English mustard.

I would suggest the 'heaps of butter and English mustard' is doing a lot of the heavy lifting there. This kind of endorsement is in the same category as people who say Brussels sprouts are delicious if you cook them with bacon, onions and a whirl of cream. C'mon, everyone knows that dish would be greatly improved by leaving out the Brussels sprouts.

I can't help people who are truly obsessed with ham on the bone - they will have ordered their slab months ago and are planning their glaze. For the rest of you, I suggest going to a good delicatessen or butcher and getting some thickly sliced ham for those long-awaited Boxing Day sarnies. Then when it's finished, you and the family can move on to other foods, guilt-free.

This year, do yourself a favour and give the ham a miss. Fill the void in your fridge with something everyone is guaranteed to love, like this excellent trifle.

Anne Jolly's Berriest Trifle

  • 2 packs sponge fingers
  • 150ml orange juice (or if you like booze: Marsala or Madeira)
  • 600g frozen raspberries or boysenberries, defrosted
  • 300ml cream
  • A big pottle of Greek yoghurt (plain or berry flavoured)
  • Icing sugar, to taste
  • 100g chocolate, finely chopped (I like plain dairy milk)
  1. Layer half the trifle sponges in the base of a glass trifle bowl or dish, drizzle over half the juice and leave to soak for 5 minutes.
  2. Scatter about a third of the raspberries over the sponge layer.
  3. Whip the cream, then blend gently with the yoghurt, add icing sugar to taste and then fold in the rest of the berries and two-thirds of the chocolate.
  4. Spoon half of this mixture on top of the sponge. Arrange another layer of sponge on top. Drizzle over the rest of the juice, then spread the remaining cream mixture on top. Sprinkle with the remaining chocolate and chill before serving.
  5. The best version I ever made of this, I used a blitzed-up packet of Scorched Almonds instead of the chocolate. Delicious.