Christmas ham


A Swedish style Christmas ham

Julskinka (Christmas ham) is the centrepiece of a Swedish julbord (Christmas buffet) where it is normally served cold. Swedes usually boil their julskinka and then finish it off in the oven with a mustard and breadcrumb crust/glaze.

Once the glaze is cooked the ham is moved to somewhere cold, usually outside, to cool as quickly as possible. The idea is that this will trap the juices in to ensure that the ham remains moist and tasty.

Sometimes the liquid used to cook the ham is reduced to make dopp i grytan, literally dip in the pot. The resulting sauce is quite salty and something of an acquired taste, but it is regarded with considerable affection by some Swedes who enjoying dipping bread in it.

There are recipes below for:
boiled ham,
a traditional mustard and breadcrumb glaze or crust,
dopp i grytan,
roast ham.

A Christmas ham with a dark glaze and served warm

Although Swedes normally serve julskinka cold, if like me, you decide to serve it warm I wouldn't hold it against you, although many Swedes might! John Duxbury



An unsmoked gammon joint suitable for julskinka

• Choose a salt-cured unsmoked (green) ham. A gammon joint is ideal, unless you want to buy a Swedish ham from a specialist supplier.

A meat thermometer from ICA, a popular Swedish supermarket

• Be wary of the cooking time suggested on hams bought from supermarkets as they are often suggest boiling the ham for too long, resulting in dry overcooked meat. If possible use a kitchen thermometer, inserting it into the thickest part of the ham. Boil the ham until the temperature in the centre is between 70-75°C (160-170°F).

Thinly sliced Swedish Christmas ham on a julbord in Stockholm

• In restaurants the ham is usually very thinly sliced, but at home the slices are normally a bit thicker. (The photo above was taken at the Elite Marina Tower Hotel in Stockholm. The hotel can be reached by ferry from Djurgården and serves an excellent julbord.)

Swedish mustard sold by the state-run chemist

• A good quality senap (mustard) is an essential ingredient on every julbord in Sweden. One of the most popular is produced by Apoteket (the state owned chemist) who only sell senap in November and December.

Johnny's julsenap (Christmas mustard)

Johnny's jul senap is another popular make, but there are also many artisan producers who create delicious mustards for the Christmas market.
• In the traditional glaze recipe below smooth mustards have been used, but wholegrain mustards can be used instead if you prefer.
• Smoked hams are not normally used, but if you like smoked ham go for it! Camilla Plum, a respected Danish cookery writer and broadcaster, actually recommends using a smoked joint in her recipe for a Swedish Christmas ham.


Boiled ham

A boiled ham after it has been coated with mustard and breadcrumbs 

Swedes normally boil ham as it tends to keep it nice and moist. This can be done a day or two in advance if desired. Indeed these days many Swedes buy a ham that has already been boiled and then they simply glaze it at home on Christmas Eve.


1-4 kg (2-9 lb) joint of ham with rind on
1   onion, sliced
1   carrot, sliced
1-2   bay leaves
10   black peppercorns


1. Optional: soak your ham in water for a few hours or overnight.  This will make it less salty.

2. Weigh your ham and then use the table below to see how long it will take to cook. (The times are taken from Vår Kok Bok, Sweden's biggest selling cookery book.)

Small hams
Up to 2.5 kg (5.5 lb)
Medium hams
Up to 5 kg (11 lb)
Large hams
Up to 8 kg (18 lb)
55-65 min/kg 40-60 min/kg 40-50 min/kg
25-30 min/lb 20-25 min/kg 20-25 min/lb

Christmas ham being boiled

3. Place the ham in a large, heavy-based saucepan, cover with cold water and bring slowly to the boil.

4. Pour off the water, which will have a white froth on it from the salt, and discard it. Cover the ham with fresh water and add the sliced onion and carrot, a bay leaf and black peppercorns. Bring to the boil once again.

5. Reduce the heat, cover with a lid and simmer the ham for the time you calculated or until the temperature in the middle of the thickest part reaches 70-75°C (160-170°F). If you've not got a meat thermometer, insert a skewer into centre of the ham and check that it will come out easily.

6. If you want to make some dopp i grytan, drain off the water through a sieve into a jug. If not, discard the liquid.

7. Leave the ham to cool for at least 20 minutes, but preferably overnight, before you add the glaze/crust (see below).


A traditional glaze

Breaded Christmas ham

Swedes normally finish their ham with a mustard crust. At its simplest, mustard and egg yolks are mixed together and brushed over the cooked ham which is then sprinkled with breadcrumbs and baked in a hot oven for 10-15 minutes. I prefer to add some syrup as I think it improves the flavour, but that can omitted if desired, in which case the cornflour (cornstarch) should also be omitted.


The ingredients below should be sufficient for ham of up to 2 kg (4 lb). If you are cooking a larger joint you will need to double the ingredients in order to have enough glaze.

2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp English mustard, or other strong mustard
1 egg yolk
½ tbsp syrup
1 tsp cornflour (cornstarch) or potato flour (potato starch)
2-3 tbsp fine dried breadcrumbs
1 tbsp  cloves, optional


1. Pre-heat the oven to 200°C (400°F, gas 6, fan 180°C).

2. If you are using a ham that you have boiled yourself, wait until it is cold enough to handle, remove the rind and most of the fat underneath, but leave a thin layer. Score a diamond pattern in the layer of fat left.

3. Mix the mustards, egg yolk, syrup and cornflour (cornstarch) and spread over the ham.

A Swedish Christmas ham studded with cloves waiting to be baked

4. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the glaze, stud with cloves (optional) and roast for 10-15 minutes until a nice golden colour.

5. Remove the ham to somewhere cold, such as outside or a cold garage, so that the ham cools as quickly as possible trapping in all the moisture so that you end up with a lovely juicy ham.


Dopp i grytan

Swedish Christmas sausage

If you are going to make dopp i grytan it is necessary to cook the ham at least a day in advance to allow the broth time to cool.


• If you haven't got enough broth from boiling the ham, use a ham stock cube to top it up to 1½ litres (6 cups).
• Use a saucepan with marks on the inside so that you can see how much you have boiled off.


Dopp i grytan is something of an acquired taste which is probably only worth making if you are expecting Swedish guests who you know like it (most don't!). If so, I suggest you ask them how they like it serving as there are many variations, although the basic recipe is the same. The most common ways are:
• Soaking some pieces of tunnbrod (thin crispbread) in dopp i grytan (as indicated below),
• Dipping some slices of rye bread, preferably vortlimpa (rye bread made with beer) or jullimpa (a special Christmas bread), into dopp i grytan,
• Letting some slices of ham soak in dopp i grytan,
• Cooking some slices of julkorv (a special Christmas sausage) in dopp i grytan (as shown above),
• Leaving slices of ham and slices of julkorv to soak in dopp i grytan so that guests can help themselves.


1½ litres (6 cups) broth reserved from boiling ham
1   bay leaf
6   white peppercorns
1   onion, finely sliced
1-3 tsp   soy sauce, optional
1 tbsp   finely chopped parsley, optional
8 pieces   tunnbröd (thin crispbread), optional
60 g (¼ cup) butter for serving, optional
    mustard, optional


1. Boil the ham according to the recipe above. Drain off the liquid and cool, preferably overnight in a fridge.

2. Scoop off the layer of fat on top of the liquid and then pour the liquid into a saucepan, topping up to 1½ litres (6 cups) with ham stock made with a ham bouillon cube if necessary. Add the bay leaf, white peppercorns and sliced onion. Simmer gently for about an hour without a lid on, until you have less than a litre (4 cups) left.

3. Taste the dopp i grytan and add some soy sauce if necessary to improve the colour or flavour.

4. Strain the spices and onions and cool the broth. Store in a refrigerator or freezer until required.

5. Reheat the dopp i grytan and season to taste again. Add some chopped parsley if desired.

6. Serve on a warmer on the Christmas table or let it stand over a low heat on the stove. If serving with tunnbröd, soak rounds of tunnbröd in the broth for a couple of minutes, lift them out into individual dishes and top with a knob of butter. 


Roast ham

Roast ham with a dark mustard crust

Although Swedes don't often roast a Christmas ham it is a very good way of cooking it. The main disadvantage is that you may not end up with enough broth left to make a good dopp i grytan.

The ham is roasted at a low temperature with lots of water to ensure that it remains nice and moist.  Allow about 1 hour per kg (30 minutes per lb), but be sure to use a meat thermometer and not go just by a cooking time to avoid overcooking the ham.

Although the glaze below is not a traditional yellow colour, it is packed with flavour and hard to beat. However, if you prefer you can easily substitute the traditional glaze above.


1-4 kg (2-9 lb) joint of ham*
1   egg yolk
25 g (1 oz) breadcrumbs
75 g (3 oz) wholegrain mustard
50 g (2 oz) dark brown sugar
    freshly ground black pepper

*For joints over 2 kg you will need to double the quantities for the glaze.


1. Place the ham in a large bowl, cover with cold water and leave to soak for a few hours, preferably overnight.

2. Preheat the oven to 130°C (250°F, gas ½, fan 120°C).

3. Pour off the water and discard it. Insert a meat thermometer into the ham and put it into a large roasting tray, adding enough water to fill the tray to within 1 cm (½”) of the top. Slowly roast in the oven until the meat reaches 70-75°C (160-170°F).

4. Remove the ham and increase the oven temperature to 200°C (400°F, gas 6, fan 180°C).

5. Mix the breadcrumbs, mustard, sugar and some black pepper together to make the glaze (or use the traditional glaze above).

6. Remove the rind from the ham and score a diamond pattern in the top layer of fat. Brush the glaze over the ham (you may not need all of the glaze). Roast for another 10-15 minutes until the ham is golden brown.

7. If you don't want any warm ham, remove it to somewhere cold, such as outside or a cold garage, so that the ham cools as quickly as possible trapping in all the moisture.


Another serving suggestion

Mashed roots, sliced ham, mustard and knäckebröd

Ham also goes well with some rotmos (root mash), knäckebröd (rye crispbread) and whole grain mustard.

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