I first ate ham by accident.
I was about 20 or 21, at a picnic with friends, and was handed the wrong roll; I bit into it without looking.
I was hooked from the first taste.
Sweet but salty, with a toothsome texture, the ham was a revelation, and as a lunch meat, a massive step up from the dry roast beef and chewy pressed chicken I had been brought up on in my semi-kosher Jewish house.
We also didn’t do Christmas at my house (see above), so at that point I hadn’t even been introduced to the greatest ham sandwich there is: The leftover Christmas ham sandwich.
Is it just the glazing and baking that makes leftover Christmas ham so tasty? Or is it that as long as there’s still meat on the bone we can convince ourselves the holiday isn’t really over?
Whatever the case, leftover ham is as deeply ingrained a Kiwi Christmas tradition as pavlova, Santa parades and spraying snowflakes on shop windows in the middle of summer.
But as good as a good ham sandwich is, we all know the fatigue that can set in after a few days of eating the same thing for lunch, dinner and – let’s face it – probably breakfast.
Luckily there are plenty of other things you can do with your leftover Christmas ham.
“Certainly in our family we buy a whole ham even if we only have a few people [for Christmas dinner], because we know it’s food for the next week or so,” said Dariush Lolaiy, owner-chef at meatcentric Auckland restaurant Cazador.
And for a family like the Lolaiys – both Dariush’s parents are chefs, too – that went a lot further than just sandwiches.
Lolaiy said baked ham made for particularly good leftovers because, unlike other Christmas meats such as turkey, beef, or lamb, it didn’t dry out. That’s thanks to the “beautiful layer of fat” that gets scored before cooking, and due to the fact it’s been cured in advance.
It maintained its texture, and a salty-sweet flavour that was a welcome addition to just about any dish.
Don Andrews, owner of Island Bay and Strathmore Butcheries in Wellington, agreed. “It has to be one of the most versatile meats around.”
Lolaiy starts thinking about leftover ham on Boxing Day morning, when he’ll often whip up a hash, using chopped ham instead of the typical corn beef, along with eggs, onion and some parsley.
“If you’re a little bit dusty in the morning, that fat content’s going to be what you’re after. And some hot sauce – definitely needed after a big one.”
Ham is also a great addition to omelettes, or you could go down the classic eggs Benedict route, topping English muffins with sliced ham, poached eggs and hollandaise.
If that sounds like a lot of effort for Boxing Day morning, consider a breakfast casserole version. All you really need to do is dump all the ingredients for eggs Benedict into an ovenproof dish (count one chopped English muffin and one-and-a-half eggs per person) with some milk – you can do this the night before, leave it in the fridge overnight and then, within half an hour of being able to look at food on December 26, have it on the table.
Andrews cuts out the fanfare and chucks his ham on the barbecue with some eggs and vine tomatoes the morning after.
Not an egg fan? Try a savoury muffin where leftover meat is paired with summer veggies like courgette or sweetcorn (if you have an egg allergy there are easy substitutions), or a pinwheel, where the ingredients are rolled into dough.
Consider a savoury porridge dish. Cooked oats or other grains like buckwheat are delicious topped with diced ham and whatever kinds of cheese or vegetable you have around.
Once lunchtime rolls around, and if you’re not over-egged already, a quiche Lorraine is a great vehicle for leftover ham.
For a lighter option, Andrews suggested pizza.
“I know that Hawaiian pizza is the traditional one to put ham on, but your imagination is the only thing that limits you with topping. It’s great for a quick and easy feed, and it is one that the kids can get involved with.”
Hawaiian pizza isn’t the only way to combine ham and pineapple.
Lolaiy recommended cutting the ham thick, about 1cm wide, rubbing with oil or glaze, and cooking it on the barbecue with a slice of tinned or fresh pineapple next to it.
“It’s really about caramelisation,” he said. “The meat lends itself so well to a pretty aggressive heat on the second day.”
You can either eat the steak as is, maybe with some fried up leftover potatoes on the side, or turn it into a Kiwi-style burger.
Pineapple is a common ingredient in Mexican dishes. Lolaiy cuts his ham thin, reheats it with pineapple juice and some chilli-lime salt, and uses it as the basis for tacos.
Ham also lends itself to Asian flavours. Lolaiy throws leftover ham into fried rice, while Andrews makes a sweet-and-sour stir-fry with yellow capsicum, broccoli and carrots.
You can also add leftover ham to just about any pasta dish you can think of, from a macaroni cheese (an easy dish in which to disguise vegetables for fussy children, noted Andrews) to a simple tagliatelle with cherry tomatoes and basil.
Cold cooked ham works well in salads. Try it tossed with a crunchy, juicy lettuce like iceberg and ranch dressing, or mixed with mayonnaise, chopped pickles and spring onion.
And if despite all of this you get to the point where you just can’t face your leftover ham any longer, use it to cook up a batch of soup (with vegetables, barley, or white beans, for example) then stick in the freezer and forget about it till winter.
Speaking of pickle: When the occasion calls only for a ham sandwich, you might want to liven things up with a condiment.
Lolaiy’s favourite is sauerkraut, for the combination of acid and savoury notes with a lactic mouthfeel.
Pickles should be salty and crisp, rather than a sweet gherkin, he said, in order to cut through the ham’s fat. A good mustard – with heat, acidity and body – will serve the same function.
For Andrews, “Mum’s homemade chutney is hard to beat”, although he didn’t usually use a condiment himself.
“We believe a glazed ham is so good it doesn’t need sauces.”
Don Andrews’ tips for keeping cooked ham fresh
Mix 2C cold water with 1TB white vinegar.
Soak ham in the mixture, using either a ham bag or a tea towel, for 2-3 minutes.
Squeeze excess moisture from the bag or towel.
Replace the ham then store in the fridge.
Repeat the process every 3-4 days.
This article was originally published in December 2020.