Some may be wondering what happened to me this Christmas. I don’t think I am quite myself. As evidence, I present our Christmas masterpiece: Ham brined in Coca-Cola. A few weeks ago I heard someone mention she had tried it and I became curious. I found this recipe on the Internet and didn’t plan to follow it exactly. All that motivated me was the cola brine, and I ignored the rub and glaze ingredients…but then had to improvise on Christmas Day.
Ted was skeptical and took this picture of our countertop when I was creating the brine, around midnight on Christmas Eve. The hardest step was scoring the skin of the fresh (not cured) ham. I feared we would have a strange story to tell an ER doctor so I encouraged Ted to stop.
The ham stayed in the brine (4L Coca-Cola, 1.5 cups kosher salt, garlic cloves, bay leaves, peppercorn) for 15 hours. I didn’t have the fresh herbs (sage, parsley) so I did a rub with salt, pepper, garlic, olive oil and dried sage.
Next the ham roasted for 2 hours but probably could have roasted a little longer. Every 45 minutes I doused it with a glaze made from brown sugar and, yes, more Coca-Cola. I’d never brined, baked or boiled soda until last Saturday! The skin, due to the glaze, rub and brine, was a lovely caramel color.
The ham tasted delicious, better than a cured one, although I do wonder what kinds of chemicals are in the meat…and what happened to all that caffeine? After dinner we flipped through our kitchen book collection, hoping to find answers to our questions.
Ham science here
I turned to food scientist Dr. Eric Decker, from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst to find out just what the Coke brine was doing. While Coke has about the same amount of sugar as orange or apple juice, he explained, it has roughly 27 times that of our brine. This higher sugar concentration flavors the meat. Coke is also considerably more acidic than our brine; it has a pH level of 3.3, while our brine is relatively neutral, hovering untangling (or denaturing) the strands, much like a marinade. Luckily, this sour, acidic flavor is balanced by the sugar and that unique Coca-Cola flavor, resulting in a ham you won’t soon forget. -J.C.
And here’s a column at NewJersey.com that explains a bit of the history…
The recipe was unearthed by Elizabeth Candler Graham, the great-great-granddaughter of Asa Griggs Candler, founder of Coca-Cola. As far as food historians can tell, it was created sometime in the 1880s in or around Atlanta.
Ted’s skepticism disappeared as he tasted the ham. It was delicious. Especially warm from the oven on that Christmas Day. He said I was adventurous but it’s only because I become bored doing the same dishes all the time. Why not try something strange and fun? This year too I think I needed the challenge of the experiment as a distraction. And I also like the education that comes with the cooking, both science and history in a ham…homeschool and Christmas supper all in one!