How to master your Christmas ham glaze

Time to brush up on the essentials.
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10 - 12
1H 30M

Why do we glaze ham? Done right, glazing takes ham from a humble stand-by to a show-stopping centrepiece on the Christmas table, adding layers of flavour along the way.


It’s worth considering the four flavour blocks that comprise a good ham glaze:

  • Sweet: Brown, rapadura and muscovado sugar, maple syrup, apricot jam, marmalade, cola, dessert wine, Marsala, honey, kecap manis, peach nectar

  • Spice: Cloves, cinnamon, star anise, ginger, fennel seeds, allspice, cardamom, peppercorn, smoked paprika

  • Acid: Apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, verjuice, pineapple, lime, orange and apple juice, rice vinegar

  • Other additions: Citrus peel, beer, soy sauce, sake, fish sauce, mustard, whisky, bay leaves, makrut lime leaves, thyme

(Photo: Will Horner)


A sweet ingredient is the key flavour profile in a glaze. A little acid is often used to balance the sweetness and thin the glaze. When pairing a sweet flavour with an acidic flavour, try to keep the ingredients complementary. For example, kecap manis with rice vinegar, brown sugar with pineapple juice or apple cider vinegar, and marmalade paired up with orange juice. You’ll need about 1½ cups of base glaze to coat an average-sized ham.


Certain spices – cloves, cinnamon, allspice – will add unmistakable Christmas aroma and flavour to the base glaze. Use cloves for studding over the scored ham, or as a flavour accent in the glaze itself. A layer of savoury flavour can also be a good addition, via ingredients such as mustard or soy sauce. Add small amounts to your base glaze to begin with, one teaspoon at a time, building gradually until you achieve the desired depth of flavour.


Most glazes are cooked before use to dissolve any solid sugars and meld the flavours. Bring the glaze to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat until the mixture is a thin syrupy consistency. Because you’re building it up on your ham as it cooks, it will eventually create a lovely caramelised finish.

Taste the glaze – the sweetness should be balanced by the acid and, as it reduces with each basting, it will become sweeter. If your ingredients are punchy and in liquid form to begin with, you may not need to heat the mixture first – just stir to combine in a bowl. A fruit juice will benefit from a little reduction on the stove first, whereas a smaller amount of vinegar can just be splashed in.


If you’re happy with the flavour of your glaze, then glaze away. Remove the skin from your ham and score the fat – this is decorative, but it also helps to build nice pockets of crusty glaze at the corners of each score mark. Heat the ham at about 200°C and brush at regular intervals for about 30 minutes. The hotter the ham gets as it cooks, the better the glaze will start to build and caramelise.


Cherry and allspice glaze

Combine 350gm pitted cherries with 120ml maple syrup, 2 tbsp water, 2 tbsp sherry vinegar, and a pinch each of ground cloves and cardamom in a saucepan and simmer until cherries release juice, and liquid thickens slightly (20-25 minutes). Place ham in a roasting pan and cook, basting occasionally, until glazed.

Ginger beer and hot English mustard glaze

Combine 750ml ginger beer, 2 tbsp hot English mustard, 55gm (¼ cup) brown sugar, 1 tsp finely crushed green peppercorns and a pinch of ground ginger in a saucepan over medium heat and reduce until thickened slightly (20-30 minutes). Place ham in a roasting pan, pour ginger beer mixture over it and cook, basting occasionally, until golden and warmed through.

Char siu-style glaze

Combine 160gm hoisin sauce, 120gm honey, 2 tbsp light soy sauce, 2 tbsp Shaoxing wine, 1 tbsp fermented soy bean paste (available from Asian grocers) and ½ tsp five-spice in a bowl. Place ham in a roasting pan and baste with glaze as it roasts.

Spiced quince glaze

Stir 100gm quince paste, 60ml dry white wine, 2 tbsp apple juice, 1 tbsp Sherry vinegar and ½ tsp each ground cloves, ground cinnamon and ground allspice in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until melted and smooth. Add 160gm brown sugar and stir until dissolved. Place ham in a roasting pan, brush with half the quince glaze and roast, brushing occasionally with remaining quince glaze, until sticky, golden and warmed through.

Spiced apricot glaze

Finely chop rind of 1 preserved lemon and combine in a bowl with 300gm smooth apricot jam, 120gm mild-flavoured honey, juice of 1 orange and 1 tsp ras el hanout spice blend (available from select delicatessens and Middle Eastern grocers). Whisk until smooth, then brush over ham and baste occasionally as it cooks.

Brown sugar spice glaze

Combine 150gm brown sugar, 60ml (¼ cup) apple cider vinegar, 60gm Dijon mustard, 1 tsp ground allspice, and ¼ tsp each ground cardamom and cinnamon in a bowl, rub all over scored ham, place in a roasting pan and cook, basting occasionally, until golden.

Chipotle, lime and pineapple glaze

Combine chopped flesh of ½ pineapple with the juice of 2 limes, 180gm crushed light palm sugar and 2 jarred chipotle chillies in a blender. Pound 1 cup coriander and sea salt in a mortar and pestle, then add to pineapple mixture to taste. Baste ham as it roasts.

Spiced marmalade glaze

Process 250ml freshly squeezed orange juice, 120gm marmalade, 100ml golden rum, 2 tbsp coarsely chopped thyme, 1 golden shallot, 1 garlic clove, 1 fresh bay leaf and 1 habanero chilli in a food processor until very smooth, then season to taste. Place ham in a roasting pan and baste with glaze every 20 minutes.

Kecap manis and chilli glaze

Combine 250ml kecap manis with 60ml Chinkiang vinegar (available from Asian grocers), 1 tsp each dried chilli flakes and ground star anise, 3 crushed garlic cloves, and 2 tbsp fish sauce in a bowl, then baste ham as it roasts.

Coconut nectar, tamarind and chilli glaze

Combine 200ml coconut nectar (available from health-food shops), 1 long red chilli split lengthways, finely grated rind of 2 limes and 60ml water in a saucepan over medium heat. Reduce until slightly thickened (10-15 minutes), then add juice of 1 lime and 1 tsp tamarind concentrate (available from Asian grocers), and season to taste. Place ham in a roasting pan, pour glaze over it and roast, basting occasionally.



How to glaze a ham

1.Preheat oven to 200C. Follow the instructions to make your choice of glaze and set aside.
2.Peel back skin from the ham, being careful not to tear the fat. Use a sharp knife to score around the shank, then detach the skin and reserve (use it to cover leftover ham to help prevent it from drying out).
3.Score the fat (not the flesh) evenly with a small sharp knife, maintaining an even depth all over. You can either score in a crisscross pattern to form diamonds or in parallel lines.
4.Place ham in a large roasting pan with a cup of water, then brush at regular intervals for about 30 minutes, and bake until sticky, golden and warmed through (1-1½ hours). Rest for 30 minutes before carving.

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