Credit: Julia Thiel

The Chef: Cleetus Friedman (City Provisions)

The challenger: Barry Sorkin (Smoque)

The ingredient: Bourbon

One thing Cleetus Friedman learned years ago is that you shouldn’t cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink. The same goes for bourbon, which is why one step of the recipe he came up with for bourbon-glazed ham is: “Pour half a cup of bourbon into a brandy snifter. Set aside for sipping during preparation.”

He chose a small-batch bourbon from Cedar Ridge Vineyards Winery & Distillery in Iowa for the task. It was released in July 2010 as the first bourbon produced in Iowa—from Iowa corn, of course—since Prohibition, and Friedman says he’s been selling out of it ever since he put it on the shelves at City Provisions a few weeks ago. “A lot of smaller-batch bourbons are really hot, really—you know, you drink ’em and you’re burning on fire. This is just really smooth,” he says. “It’s an easy-drinking, caramelly, smooth aged bourbon.”

That proved to be key to his creative process when he was deciding what to make with it. “I took a bottle of bourbon. I opened it up. I started to sip the bourbon, and let the ideas come to mind. I didn’t even get halfway through the bottle, thank goodness, when I realized that I wanted to do some sort of meat,” Friedman says. “I wound up going between turkey and ham, turkey and ham, and eventually settled on ham.”

“I’m calling it a bourbon-glazed drunken ham, because I brined the ham in bourbon, and injected it with the bourbon brine, and then I slow-roasted it with a bourbon-and-mustard glaze.”

Friedman makes his own hams, as well as many other meats at City Provisions. “When you look at our ham sandwich, that ham comes to us as a whole hog. We butcher in-house. We break it down, we brine and smoke the hams, we do ciccioli and sausages and patés and everything.”

This ham, unlike his others, wasn’t smoked, because Friedman thought it would overpower the glaze. His smoker was actually a gift from Barry Sorkin, who’d outgrown it at Smoque, and Friedman says that right after he got it he experimented with it quite a bit. “Every single thing in this kitchen has made it into this smoker in one way or another,” he says. “One of the best things to come out of it is my smoked hummus.” Other experiments were less successful: “Smoking dried fruit . . . not the best thing,” he says.

His unsmoked bourbon-glazed ham is soaked in a bourbon brine for about ten days to “get it nice and tender and boozy. Not too boozy—just a little bit.” While the ham’s roasting, Friedman makes the glaze, a combination of apple cider, Dijon mustard, apple cider vinegar, and brown sugar. He lets it reduce by half, “which will be about 45 minutes over medium to high heat. Maybe an hour, depending on how much bourbon you’re drinking.” When it’s finished, “you’ll get that tang from the mustard, sweetness from the apple cider, a little bit of bourbon at the end.”

The ham gets basted every hour for about four hours, then bourbon-glazed one final time after it comes out of the oven. “Bourbon adds that perfect sweetness, that little bit of booze edge,” says Friedman. “Bourbon makes everything better. Kind of like bacon.”

Who’s Next:

Marianne Sundquist of In Fine Spirits, working with pork cheeks. “It’s one of my favorite things to work with, and knowing that she tends to dabble in the proteins as well, I wanted to see what she’d come up with,” Friedman says. “They’re very versatile.” 

Video by Michael Gebert/Sky Full of Bacon

Bourbon-Glazed Drunken Ham

Brine the ham

7 to 8 pounds ham

1 gallon of water

5 oz salt

3 oz sugar

½ onion

½ celery rib

1 carrot

1 t juniper berries

4 sprigs thyme

¼ t allspice

1 T peppercorn

½ cup bourbon

Heat water, salt, and sugar in a large pot until dissolved. Add all remaining ingredients, except bourbon, to brine container. Pour hot water mixture over veggies and spices. Cool to 40 degrees. Add ham. Brine for five days, then add bourbon to brine. Remove ham from brine and inject ¼ cup of brine, then return to brine for five more days.

Cook the ham

4½ cups bourbon

1½ cups water

A couple dozen whole cloves

1 cup light brown sugar, packed

4 cups apple cider

½ cup apple cider vinegar

½ cup Dijon mustard

pinch of ground black pepper

pinch of salt

½ teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Stir half of the bourbon into the water, then pour the mixture into the bottom of a roasting pan. Stud the top of the ham with cloves. Tent the top of the ham with foil and bake for 30 minutes.

Pour half a cup of bourbon into a brandy snifter. Set aside for sipping during preparation.

While the ham is baking, whisk together the remaining bourbon, brown sugar, vinegar, and half of the apple cider in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring often, until brown sugar is completely dissolved. Stir in Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Reduce by half, or until mixture thickens to a loose syrup, and remove from heat. It will get thicker as it cools.

After 30 minutes, remove ham and baste with a quarter of the syrup. Return to the oven and continue baking an additional two to three hours (or until it reaches 150 degrees), basting three more times as the ham cooks. Add water as needed to the bottom of the roasting pan if it boils out.

Place ham on a platter and tent with foil. Let stand 15 minutes.

Pour pan drippings into a large saucepan, scraping in the browned bits. Skim off any fat and discard. Heat over medium high with the remaining two cups of apple cider for five minutes. Serve the pan juices with the ham.