However, that would pretty much limit my knowledge of its use. Seeing that quantity of unbelievably fragrant freshly foraged juniper berries was kind of a revelation to me. I wanted to know what else can be done with them and start experimenting right away.
Which is how the idea of using them in the rub came first and I made this little ham back in September. WHOA! It worked better than I expected. I’m usually not a big fan of ham, reserving it to special occasions only, but this one came out really outstanding.
What a complex yet subtle flavor touch to the roasted ham in crust! It made me think of Christmas right away and so I reserved this recipe and juniper berries (both dried and frozen) for the winter holidays, and here I’m sharing it with you today.
- Make spirits and bitters: primarily gin by adding juniper berries to vodka along with bunch of other botanicals (this DIY Gin recipe works great for me)
- Infuse vinegars (bruise the berries and use this easy method): vinegars bring out the citrus element of the berries
- Infuse hot drinks: teas, tisanes, mulled wine, etc. with the enhanced piney juniper berries flavor (have also great medicinal effect on upset stomach, urinary tract infections, bloating, heartburn, etc.)
- Infuse desserts, fillings, gels, creams and frostings
- Infuse salt or sugar
- Use in brines for: brisket, turkey, pork, chicken or fish as flavor enhancer
- Add to game or venison stews and terrines (wild boar, hare, deer, etc.), as well as pork
- Add to dressings and vinaigrette: works well with olive oil, apple cider or balsamic vinegar, horseradish, mustard, mayonnaise, ginger and garlic
- Add to sauces and gravies: i.e. Madeira, White wine, Cranberry sauce, etc. and/or thickening dripping liquids into sauces
- Flavor cabbage stews (German, Polish style Bigos, etc.) along with allspice berries and peppercorns
- Use in fermenting veggies (sauerkraut, pickles, etc.): works as stabilizer, adds crunch and flavor
- Add to bird/meat stuffing
- Rub in curing meats (along with other spices) to make pancetta, pastrami, smoked meat, ham, game, etc.
- Add to stocks and soups included in bouquet garni: adds nutty-woodsy notes of flavor
- Add to pasta, potato, couscous or polenta water
- Recycle leftovers jams into glaze by mixing them with water/syrup infused with juniper berries.
Juniper berries are not exactly berries, but the tiny pine cones of the shrub that are so tightly clenched they look like blue-purple berries. They have strong tart, coniferous flavor with a hint of citrus and very small amount is used in particular recipes. If you remember, in one of the episodes of the fantastic comedy Bedazzled (with Brendan Frazer and Elizabeth Hurley) the major character is explaining at some point that the word `Gin’ is short for the French genievre or the Dutch jenever, both of which mean juniper, the main flavor in gin. Juniper berries have been used since ancient times and were especially popular in Greece, Rome and Egypt as medical remedy, to flavor dishes, or be used for spiritual rituals (some have been even found in the tomb of King Tut).
Back to our Christmas ham: this is a wonderful, festive, traditional Quebec recipe for frugal (and beyond) holidays. It keeps the meat juicy, yet well done. The juniper berries not only add flavor, but work as a natural anti-bloating agent. The juniper-mustard flavored pastry crust helps the dish taste and look elegant and exquisite.
Simply put: it’s a super easy, convenient and impressive centerpiece dish on a budget for many occasions. I do hope you will try it and like it and get back to me with your comments.
Final note: juniper berries are not hard to find on-line or in whole food/organic stores and only a small quantity is used in the recipe. The initial recipe however didn’t have juniper berries in it, so if you can’t get a hold of juniper berries, feel free to substitute with a tablespoon of crushed fennel seeds or dried tarragon.
Happy Holidays and Enjoy Your Cooking!