The secret to this frozen ham for the holidays? Racine beer.

Using a little soda in your ham frosting is an old art, but boiling your ham in two quarts of soda may be a newer practice. The first two-liter bottle was not invented until the early 1970s, when Pepsi released one. That must have paved the way for cooking your ham in soda, be it the more classic Pepsi or Coke, or the more eccentric Dr Pepper, cherry soda or ginger ale. In “Cooking Across the South,” a 1980 Southern Living cookbook, a recipe for “country ham” requires two ingredients: ham, plus four quarts of ginger ale. As far as I know, cooking ham in sweet soda serves two purposes: to impart all of those spicy-sweet flavors, while simultaneously softening the inherent, often too harsh, salty taste of cured meat.

This Christmas I want to try something different and surprise my dad, so I’m going to cook a ham in root beer instead. The sarsaparilla flavor in root beer gives the meat a woody, minty note, which sings when paired with aromatics like bay leaves and shallots. Usually when I’m home in Atlanta, I have no problem finding a pot big enough to boil half a bone-in ham in soda. (My mom inherited a bunch of stainless steel cauldrons from her mother-in-law, my grandmother.) But while testing this recipe in my studio-shoebox in Manhattan, I discovered that putting the salty beast in a large roasting pan with root beer poured into the bottom, then cover it with foil and cook it slowly and slowly, was a grand, hands-off way to imbue the pork with the dark caramel undertones of the drink. And, in this torrid environment, the ham did not dry out either.

But here’s the real fun: I like to take some of this root beer braising liquid and reduce it in a separate pan until it’s thick and syrupy to make a base for a frosting. Sticky like tar and with a richly flavorful taste, this frosting gets its body and spice from Dijon mustard, its molasses-rich sweetness from brown sugar and its high note, the kind of flavor that floats on top like a finely piccolo. tuned in an orchestra, with a touch of rice vinegar.

As much as I love Christmas, it is the days after that I cherish the most. If you immerse the hambone in a pot of water with an onion cut in half and boil it for a few hours, you will be rewarded with a deep and sensual broth. Give yourself yet another reward (it’s the holidays, after all) by turning this broth into congee, what we Koreans call juk: Cook it with leftover rice and ham, especially the fatty pieces near the bone, and stir in a few egg yolks for extra richness. It’s ham and eggs for the long haul, and it will change your life.

One year for Christmas, I took my family to Portland, Maine. We didn’t have Dad’s Crosley there, but we played the same albums from our phones and stuck with our ham-centric menu. The holidays seem different to everyone, but this is what they look like to me: the whole family gathered in the kitchen, with Louis Armstrong’s husky voice covering the stage, a powerful memory that has become a feeling I can summon up in. a wink. needle. And it wasn’t just in December that you can feel that, the weight of the world lifted for a brief moment. If you have a record player, that time traveling device, then you can spend Christmas in January, July, September. Even better if you cook a ham.

About Marion Alexander

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