No other holiday recipe is quite as popular or as simple to make as a ham. This is the smoky, salty, sweet, savory dish that can grace the holiday table, satisfy late-night munchies, or be stuffed into a day-after sandwich. Order a smoked, ready-to-eat or fully cooked, bone-in ham from a butcher. Since the ham is center stage, make sure it’s of the highest quality. If you choose, cook a smaller (9- to 10-pound) half ham. Stud it with fewer cloves and cook it for less time, about 2 hours total.
For the ham:
1(15-pound) bone-in whole smoked (ready-to-eat or fully cooked) ham
1½ teaspoons whole cloves
1½ cups apple cider or apple juice
¼ cup bourbon
1 fresh thyme sprig
1 fresh sage sprig
1 bay leaf
20 dried Medjool dates, pitted and halved
4 medium yellow onions, peeled and cut end to end through the root into 6 wedges
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
For the glaze:
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
¼ cup bourbon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (¼ stick)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1. Prepare the ham: Bring the ham up to room temperature: Place it in a large container with the packaging intact.
2. Pour hot tap water over the ham to cover it and let it soak for 30 minutes. (If you don’t have a large enough container, use the sink.)
Meanwhile, heat the oven to 325°F and arrange a rack in the bottom third.
3. Remove the ham from the water and its packaging. Place it in a large roasting pan and stud it all over with the cloves, about 1 inch apart. Pour the apple cider or juice and bourbon over the ham; place the herbs in the pan. Cover the pan with foil and cook for 30 minutes. Baste the ham, cover, and continue to cook for another 30 minutes. Baste again, spread the dates and onions around the ham, and drizzle with the olive oil. Cover and continue to cook, basting every 30 minutes and checking the pan to make sure it’s not burning (if the bottom of the pan starts to dry up, add about ½ cup water), until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the ham registers between 130°F and 135°F, about 2¾ hours more.
4. Meanwhile, make the glaze: place all of the ingredients in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, whisking occasionally until the butter has melted and the mixture is combined; set aside.
5. When the ham is ready, remove it from the oven and increase the oven temperature to 425°F. Remove the foil and, using a long sharp knife, score the ham in 1-inch-wide, ¼-inch-deep diamond patterns, moving the whole cloves as needed.
6. Brush ½ cup of the glaze all over the ham. When the oven has reached 425°F, bake the ham, uncovered, until the outside has darkened in color and is caramelized, about 15 minutes.
7. Using two sets of tongs, carefully transfer the ham to a serving platter. Use a slotted spoon to remove the onions and dates from the roasting pan and arrange them around the ham. Transfer 1/4 cup of the pan juices to the remaining glaze, stir to combine, and rewarm, if desired. Taste, adding 1 to 2 tablespoons more of the pan juices if you choose. Serve the glaze alongside the ham. Serves 16. –Jill Santopietro for CHOW.com