Cumberland Sauce | Sauced

Joshua Bousel

I've always possessed an insatiable appetite for ham, a desire that only became more ravenous after my parents made the decision to keep a kosher home. Even 15 years since the lifting of that dietary restriction, my taste for ham has lessened not one bit after making up for lost time with heavy ham consumption. Whenever I see one those sweet and salty hunks of pork adorning a holiday table, I attack it with such speed that you would think I had not eaten for months (my wife says I "hoover" the ham)—and never once have I stopped to think that sauce could make it even better.

Writing this Sauced column has now made me take a step back and consider a sauce for ham, even if it's already one of the most delicious thing on the planet on its own. Racking my brain and scouring recipes for what would best complement that sweet and succulent meat, I came across a good answer: Cumberland sauce.

Cumberland sauce is British condiment, dating back to the late 19th century, and commonly consists of red currants, port, orange, lemon, mustard, and ginger. This combo sounded like a great accompaniment to ham, and a fitting sauce for a Christmas dinner, so I gave it a try.

I wasn't left disappointed—the reduced sauce became a vibrant fruity mixture that was semi-sweet, but more heavily tart, and found a great balance when paired with my brown sugar and mustard glazed ham. Most important to me was that it didn't detract from the natural "hammy" flavor, but actually added a new complexity that I had never conceived of before. Old habits die hard, though, and even after happily finishing a generous plate of ham slices with the Cumberland sauce, I went straight back to the carving board and stood there, unable to stop myself, picking and eating any remaining meat from the bone.