Mardi Gras Madness 2008: Cola Ham

Saturday was our annual Mardi Gras Madness party. I used to live in New Orleans, and when I moved back to New England, I promised myself that I would do my best to keep NOLA in my life. We started our Mardi Gras tradition in 2003, a year after moving into our house, and it just keeps getting better. That first year, we knocked ourselves out trying to make everything from gumbo to jambalaya to red beans and rice. We had “throws,” which are trinkets that are thrown to spectators during Mardi Gras parades, Mardi Gras cups, and king cake, the traditional Mardi Gras dessert, shipped up from Louisiana. Best of all, we made original Pat O’Brien’s Hurricanes, a potent concoction of hurricane mix, water, and light and dark rum. Over the years, we learned to delegate. We usually have about 100 people in our 1600-square-foot home, and we’ve discovered that our family, friends and neighbors are more than willing to bring a dish. In fact, many of them get into the spirit of things and bring their best Cajun- or Creole- inspired dishes. They will all attest to the fact that the Mardi Gras table is always groaning with food, yet this year, besides decorations, throws and Hurricanes, all Chris and I prepared was fried turkey (although we had five of them throughout the night!) and Coca-Cola ham. Our guests took care of everything else, and it was probably the best Mardi Gras ever!

We’ve discussed the wonder of fried turkey in a previous post, and I base my Coca-Cola ham on Nigella Lawson’s recipe from the “Trashy” section of Nigella Bites. Here’s what I do: I buy a spiralled ham that will fit in my stock pot. The night before Mardi Gras, I put the ham in the pot, add one onion that I cut in half but don’t bother to peel, and then cover the ham with Coca-Cola or whatever cola I have on hand (apparently this year it was Pepsi). It usually takes at least a 2-liter bottle. I boil this with a loose lid for an hour or so. The sweet cola seeps into the spiralled ham really nicely and turns it a pretty dark brown. When the ham has boiled long enough, I cover a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. I put the ham on the sheet and score diamond-shapes into the fatty skin, studding each diamond with a clove. I then spread dark molasses over the ham, sprinkle it with ground mustard powder, and then pat it with brown sugar. Be sure to wear an apron, as this is a messy, sticky endeavor. I place the ham in the oven and broil it for about 10 minutes, until the glaze gets dark brown and bubbly. I let it cool enough to take the slices off the bone and place them in an aluminum pan. Once the ham is finished cooling, I cover the pan and refrigerate it. I serve it cold, right from the pan, at the party. It’s nice because it’s something that can be done ahead of time, and everyone is always pleasantly surprised at the balance of sweetness and spiciness that infuses each meaty bite.

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