Ham with Cumberland Sauce

Ham with Cumberland sauce is a traditional British recipe dating back to Victorian times and there’s a reason for its staying power. It’s really very good.

The sauce is often served with baked, glazed gammon but here the ham is simply simmered with aromatics. I bought a small joint, 750g, and I didn’t want to overcook it. Besides, the sauce speaks for itself and doesn’t need a clove-heavy, treacly glaze to set it off. The dish feels lighter and more summery this way.

A few points to note

Hams rarely need pre-soaking these days but check with your supplier and follow their advice.

Buying a small piece like this is quite economical, something to bear in mind as prices rise. Mine cost £4 and it served two of us for three meals, once hot, once cold and once as part of a lentil dish (see bottom of post), although I could just have easily put it in a quiche or just polished if off in sandwiches.

I could hardly bash on about the economical nature of this dish and then advocate buying an entire bottle of port for the sauce when you only need 100ml. I used some elderberry port made by my friend Sergio and it worked perfectly. If you don’t have a bottle of the real thing lurking in the sideboard, try red wine and the sauce is too tart, add a little sugar at the end.

You will sometimes see recipes where Cumberland sauce is either thickened with cornflour or reduced until it is thick and syrupy. Traditionally though it is a thin sauce and that’s what I’ve gone with here. My recipe is based in large part on Escoffier’s. It’s generally eaten cold.

My thanks to reader Penny whose suggestion in response to a Facebook question inspired this post. And to everyone else – please let me know if there’s something you’d like to to make and I’ll add it to the list.

Ham with Cumberland Sauce

  • Servings: Up to 6, or 2 with extras for further meals
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750g ham joint (mine was smoked)

1 onion, peeled and halved

1 carrot, cut into large chunks

1 stick of celery, ditto, if you have it (I didn’t)

6-8 whole black peppercorns

A few sprigs of parsley

2 bay leaves

Enough water to cover the meat by a couple of inches

For the sauce:

4 tbsp redcurrant jelly

100 ml port (see notes above)

1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped

The peel of 1/2 orange and 1/2 lemon

The juice of 1 orange and 1/2 lemon

1 tsp English mustard powder

1/2 tsp ground ginger

A pinch of cayenne pepper


Put the ham into a saucepan with its veg, cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes, skimming off any scum which rises to the surfacce. Leave in the  pan for 10 minutes, then remove to a plate. You can keep the resulting stock to cook lentils or for a soup, but it probably won’t be very flavourful.

While the ham is cooking, make the sauce. Remove half the peel from each of the citrus fruits, being careful not to include the white pith. Cut the peel into fine juliene strips.

Bring a small pan of water to a boil and add the peel along with the finely chopped shallot. Blanch for two minutes, then drain in a sieve. Cool and thoroughly blot dry. Discard the cooking water.

In the same pan, melt the redcurrant jelly with the port, stirring from time to time. (Delia Smith says you may need to strain out any stubborn globules; my jelly was soft set so it wasn’t a problem.)

Squeeze the juice from the orange and half the lemon. Stir into it the mustard powder, ginger and pinch of cayenne. Add to the saucepan, along with the peel and shallot and simmer gently for five or ten minutes. Taste and adjust the flavourings as necessary. Decant into a jug and allow to cool.

When the ham is done, slice and serve with some of the sauce drizzled over and the rest in a jug alongside. We ate ours with French beans and Dauphinoise potatoes.

Bonus recipe idea:

Fry a roughly chopped onion, carrot, fat clove of garlic and stick of celery in 1tbs oil until softened. Add 60-75g brown or green lentils per person (I was cooking for two so scale up on the veg if necessary) and a bouquet garni. Stir. Pour in a splash of white wine and about three times as much ham stock as lentils per volume.

Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 25 minutes until the lentils are cooked, checking the liquid level towards the end. Add 150g diced ham. Cook until the meat is heated through. Finish with a squeeze of lemon juice, an optional drizzle of oil and lots of fresh chopped herbs. I like it a bit soupy. Serve in bowls with crusty bread.

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