Mustard glazed ham
Mustard glazed

‘At Alleyn’s suggestion they broached Dinah’s luncheon hamper, and he continued his examination of Mandrake’s notes in an atmosphere of ham and hard-boiled eggs’
Chapter 12, Death and the Dancing Footman

If you ask a clutch of fans which of the four Queens of Crime – Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh – is best, you had better prepare yourself for a vicious fight (and make sure you have hidden all the arsenic, garrotes, daggers, ice picks, guns, arcane weaponry and fish paste sandwiches – you pick up a lot of know-how reading these books).

I have always been an Agatha Christie girl myself. Mostly because she is the first one I read, secondly because of the excellent Poirot TV adaptations that defined my Sunday evenings when I was growing up, and also because I love a good story. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy an idiosyncratic literary stylist as much as the next fancy pants graduate, but having studied literature for so long, what I really want when I pick up a book is to be entertained.

However, the more Ngaio Marsh I read, the more she is beginning to replace Christie in my affections. The set-ups and the cast are always so warmly drawn and the locations – ah, the locations. It’s all about the snowbound country house, isn’t it? AndDeath and the Dancing Footman is set in a country house and yes, the snow does come down in drifts, and horrors! A body is discovered.

Marsh’s books do tend to plod a bit when the murder investigation gets underway, something that is signposted in Dancing Footman by Inspector Alleyn’s agonizingly slow drive across the snow-covered country lanes to the murder scene. A crime writer who makes the bit before the crime the most interesting and enjoyable section of her books may want to consider a career as a social observer, but I have to love a book that hangs its plot around a footman dancing to Hands, Knees and Boomps-a-Daisy.

Mustard glazed ham
Serves 6

1.4kg unsmoked gammon joint with a good layer of fat and skin
1 onion, peeled and quartered
6 cloves
1 bay leaf
A few peppercorns
A little oil
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
3 tbsp light muscovado sugar

1 Place the gammon in a large pan, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Drain, rinse out the pan and return the gammon to it. Cover with fresh cold water and add the onion quarters, studded with the cloves, the bay leaf and peppercorns. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and gently boil for 1 hour and 5 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool for 10–15 minutes.

2 Meanwhile, preheat the oven to gas mark 5/190°C/fan oven 170°C. Oil a small roasting tin and sit the joint in it, skin side up. Carefully peel off the skin, leaving the fat, and then score the fat with a knife to make a diamond pattern. Smear the mustard over the fat, then press on the sugar. Bake for 30 minutes until golden. Remove from the pan and rest for 15 minutes before slicing, or leave until it is entirely cold. Serve with hard-boiled eggs, cornichons, salad and chutney.

Tagged with: Crime fictionEnglishHam

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