Ham hash

Every year I fall into a ham 1 for Christmas. And every year when I get the monster home I look at it and wonder what the hell am I going to do with it. It’s a little easier with many mouths to feed, but it is always before Christmas that we start to look at other ways to ham it up.

I have searched every book in my library to find why we buy these monsters at Christmas time, and I couldn’t find an answer anywhere. Not only no answers, but no references to a cultural tendency to buy whopping hams anywhere at Christmas. Is it purely an Australian/ British custom? I remember these mountains of meat as part of my childhood – but in those days they were often gifts, and with a family bigger than a basketball team, with coach, they were always scraped to the bone. Never look a gift ham in the mouth.

There was no need to worry about leftovers in those days. In those days when life was about scrimping and saving, and a penny was about the same value as today’s pound, it must have been a luxury to cop a Christmas ham.

These days I am more interested in ham as a flavourer of other things, rather than something to admire on its own. And of all the dishes that elevate ham, the simple, old-fashioned, very down-market American hash may well be the best.

2 onions, sliced into rings

ham, from anywhere, cut into chunks

6 waxy potatoes, cut into walnut-sized pieces, cooked until tender, drained

1 hot chilli

2 cloves garlic, sliced finely


black pepper

fresh herbs — tarragon, oregano, thyme, or parsley

25g butter for garnish


Cook the onions in a little oil and butter until they soften, then brown. This takes no more than patience, and about 25 minutes. You might need to add a little water now and then. Set aside.


You will need a large, heavy-based pan so the ham and potatoes can have a free run. The secret to good hash is that the potatoes crisp and brown without burning. Heat some oil and toss in the ham and potatoes with the chilli, garlic, salt and several turns of black pepper. It helps if you have a strong wrist and can toss the lot regularly, so that all sides of the ham and the potatoes get a look at the pan.


When the potatoes have a good crust — about 10 minutes — and the ham has sizzled and browned, add the herbs, the onions and the butter. Serve as is. It makes great company with chicken.

WINE: You can serve a full-bodied dry white or a medium-bodied red here. As a wine maker mate of mine once said: ‘White wine is what you drink while you wait for the red to be served.’ I’m a red wine man.

McLaren Vale has gone through somewhat of a renaissance in the eighties as far as reds go — no more cow yard or leather smells, just rich fruit. Try the ‘Traditional’ from Ryecroft or Hardys Stoney Hill. Both would go down well here.