Monday, January 25, 2010

mailbag: to ham, or not to ham?

Illustration by Von_Brandis via Flickr

Hi Lisa,

I need a bit of help...I am planning a nice dinner party for the end of January. Three other couples will be there. I plan to make it formal (using china, etc.) and was thinking of serving ham but is that strange? Is ham for just Easter or the holidays or the springtime? I can't decide if I should do short ribs instead.

Thank you for any advice. Do you have any suggestions for vegetables, etc.?

Conflicted Hostess

Hmm...ham. I think ham would be delicious--or short ribs, if you decide to go that route. Both are great choices for a big crowd because you can make them in advance. And I think those two proteins can be easily fancified for a formal meal, depending on what you serve with them.

To give ham a non-holiday feel, I would probably avoid things like stuffing and mashed potatoes and gravy. Just treat it like any other pork main dish. To give you some ideas, I looked up some pork tenderloin menus on Epicurious and I think any of these sides and desserts would work for an elegant dinner with ham. Some ideas:

-A light menu with roasted potatoes with lemon salt and smashed peas with mint butter
-An autumnal menu with butternut squash soup with ginger, mashed potatoes with parsnips and carrots, bread pudding with dried cherries and apricots and caramel sauce
-An elegant, yet rustic menu with pickled shrimp, herb, fennel, and grapefruit salad, yams with brown butter vinaigrette, roasted onions with Gruyere croutons, roasted pear tarte tatin
-A hearty winter menu with polenta bites with blue cheese, tomatoes, and pine nuts, roasted acorn squash and chestnuts, bell pepper and rice pilaf, lemon cheesecake

Or, if you decide to go the short ribs route, for my husband's birthday last year, I made short ribs braised in wine and dijon mustard and everyone loved them. They also really loved the celery root puree I served with them.

Whatever you decide to do, I'm sure it will be wonderful.
Good luck!

Does anyone else have thoughts on serving ham at non-holiday dinners? Is it weird or not? Or, if you have a dinner party quandary of your own, email me at lisadinnerpartyATgmailDOTcom.


Unknown said...

I think ham would be nice for a "fancy" dinner party because it's not something that people eat everyday.

I've just started hosting dinner parties for my girlfriends and I love it. I need to get a bigger table! Your blog is an inspiration to my menus.

The Single Gal said...

ya know - I was at a pretty fancy restaurant last week & they had sliced ham on the menu. It was so unusual that we had to order it! They took it the Southern route: a meat & three plate with mac n' cheese, fried okra, biscuit, a smear of pimento cheese... it wasn't elegant, but it was fun and retro and we ate every bite!

Daniel said...

Carving (slicing?) the ham tableside could be a fancifying twist.

Anonymous said...

Do you remember the sauce using pickling spices,
cherries and slivered almonds we made for ham occasionally?

Lisa said...

Nikkilooch: My dinner table seats 4, so I feel your pain. We usually sit around the living room with plates on our laps. Not very elegant, but what can you do?

TSG: Yum, that sounds so good! I miss the south. :(

Daniel: That is very true, if you have mad carving skills. Or an electric knife.

Anonymom: Yes, I do. I think I ate it with a spoon. I love anything with cherries.

Unknown said...

I'm with you, Lisa. Serve the ham!
Ham on its own is boring. Ham spiced up with all kinds of fancy little touches is awesome. I'm thinking chutney, lots of fun pickles, biscuits with fig preserves and butter, and brussels sprouts with onions and balsamic vinegar. And a salad. And a platter of sliced tomatoes, because really -- what's a ham dinner without sliced tomatoes?
I like the pickled shrump idea too.

Judy said...

Dan has electric knifing in his genes.

Lisa said...

Megan: Yes, you definitely need some fun condiments for ham. Otherwise, it's just a slab of meat. I love the fig preserves and butter idea. Good with spicy pepper jelly too!

Anonymous said...

Don't forget the homemade mustard, too.

Anne said...

I love ham, but those short ribs you made last year for Dan's birthday were divine!


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