Fergus Henderson's Ham in Hay

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Fergus Henderson and his Ham in Hay
Fergus Henderson and his Ham in HayPhotography by Rosey Trickett

AnOther asked Fergus the difficult question of what his favourite recipe is, “It has to be Ham in Hay: it’s delicious and also really makes sense.”

English chef Fergus Henderson MBE is renowned for his ‘nose-to-tail’ eating philosophy – using the entirety of any plant or animal being served up – which has revolutionised British cuisine. Since opening the seminal St. John Bar & Restaurant with Trevor Gulliver in October 2004 – set in a former smokehouse near Smithfield meat market – his dishes of bone marrow, gizzards and chitterlings have consistently been voted amongst the best in the world. Seven years on and Henderson has extended his famous phrase to ‘from table-to-bed’ as part of his and Gulliver’s new venture St. John Hotel, which opened this spring in the heart of the West End. Housed in what used to be Manzi’s Fish House, the hotel has 15 minimalist rooms, a restaurant open until 2am (“why not?” exclaims Henderson) and a bar, “the vital organ for the body of any hotel,” serving anything from ice cold martinis to crispy pig skin and chocolate ice cream.

After his wife Margot, one of half of the catering duo Arnold & Henderson, recommended the recipe for Squid & Potato Stew in our latest issue of AnOther Magazine, we asked Fergus his personal favourite. “It has to be Ham in Hay: it’s delicious and also really makes sense.” Naturally focussing on ham – the pig has become synonymous with Henderson, and forms the iconic logo of St. Johns  – the dish also combines his characteristic mix of high sophistication and peasant roughness.

Fergus Henderson: “The cooking of the meat in the hay also imbues it with the most wonderful and unusual flavour, while insulating the ham from any fierce heat so that it cooks in the ideal gentle fashion, resulting in the most giving of flesh. It also fills your home with rustic, pastoral smells. To obtain your hay ask a friendly farmer if one is to hand or just ask around – this can have surprisingly productive results. If all else fails a reliable pet shop is a good source.

You will need a pot large enough to fit a leg of bacon! A big bundle of hay (organic, for obvious reasons), 10 juniper berries, 14 black peppercorns, 10 cloves, 6 bay leaves, 1 leg of green gammon (hind leg, unsmoked bacon, with bone in).

In a big pot make a base of hay, sprinkle on your spices and bay leaves, and lay the ham in your hay nest. Cover with more hay around and on top. Cover with water, Bring to the boil then straight away turn down to the gentlest simmer. Put a lid on and cook either in the oven or on top, making sure that it is not boiling too fast. Cook until tender al the way through, check by probing with a thin sharp knife, 3½-4½ hours. The hay is sadly not edible.

Serve with swede mash (if possible made with goose or duck fat). The pink ham and the orange swede look like a sunset on a plate."

For more of Fergus Henderson's recipes see his books: Nose To Tail Eating, Beyond Nose To Tail and The Whole Beast.

Text by Lucia Davies