What to Serve with Ham
At no time in the year is more ham enjoyed than at Easter. A ham dinner is a tradition for many…but what to serve with ham? Whether it is a holiday dinner or Easter leftovers, we’ll show you what foods go best with ham — side dishes, cheese, wine & more!
Easter may not be the feast event Thanksgiving or Christmas is, but it’s certainly an occasion when many families break out the good china (hopefully not literally) and gather around the table in their Sunday best. At the center of the table—at least in much of the United States—there’s likely to be a ham. So now that the entrée has been chosen, it’s time to decide what to serve with ham.
If it’s Thanksgiving or Christmas, most people don’t have to think too hard. Family traditions run deep and seem to warm us up during the colder holidays. But Easter happens in the spring, during a time of renewal. It’s a time to sweep out the old cobwebs and freshen up with something new.
Easter Ham Dinner
Why do people eat ham on Easter? First, the tradition. Easter ham got its start centuries ago in Europe. Pigs were slaughtered in the fall, and the pork that couldn’t be eaten fresh was cured (by salting, brining, and/or smoking). After the considerable length of time required to cure the large hindquarters, the first hams were ready to eat in the spring. This made ham a logical choice for the Easter celebration of northern Europeans…who brought the tradition with them when they immigrated to North America.
The tradition of the Easter ham dinner has been adapted, modified and embellished over the years to include various side dishes unique to each family who celebrates: Mom’s famous scalloped potatoes, or Sis’s favorite pea salad. We wouldn’t dream of imposing on those traditions or your family’s favorite ham recipe…but we have some ideas for accompaniments that can complement and enhance your Easter dinner.
Best Side Dishes for Ham
When it comes to Easter ham, there are many delicious side dishes that pair well with it. Here are some popular options:
Scalloped Potatoes: Creamy and cheesy scalloped potatoes complement the savory ham flavors perfectly.
Roasted Vegetables: Roasting a medley of vegetables such as carrots, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, or green beans brings out their natural sweetness and adds a colorful touch to your Easter spread.
Glazed Carrots: Sweet and tender glazed carrots provide a delightful balance to the saltiness of the ham. You can use honey, brown sugar, or maple syrup to add a touch of sweetness.
Green Bean Casserole: Green beans combined with creamy mushroom sauce and topped with crispy fried onions make for a comforting and flavorful side dish.
Sweet Potato Casserole: Sweet potatoes topped with a buttery brown sugar and pecan crumble make for a deliciously sweet side dish that complements the ham.
Macaroni and Cheese: Creamy and cheesy macaroni and cheese is a comfort food favorite that pairs well with ham and pleases both kids and adults alike. Or, dice up some of the protein as a special ingredient to make a wicked ham mac and cheese!
Remember to consider your guests’ dietary preferences and any specific traditions you may have when choosing your Easter side dishes.
Best Cheese for Ham
Of course, the first accompaniment we think of for ham is cheese. You can either add a slice or two of one of the following alongside the ham and other side(s) on the dinner plate, or do as the Europeans do and serve a small “flight” of several of these cheeses as a separate course between the entrée and dessert. Below are the best cheese options to pair with ham.
When you hear the word “ham”, the first cheese that comes to mind is Swiss. A ham and Swiss sandwich is one of the true classics (more on that later), and with good reason. Swiss cheese, whether the original aged, semi-hard Emmentaler or young, buttery Baby Swiss, has a buttery, nutty richness and slight tartness that offsets the salty sweetness of a honey-glazed ham. Other Alpine-style cheeses like Gruyère and Jarlsberg will do the trick, too.
While Swiss is the first cheese that comes to mind with ham, Cheddar is second in popularity (and the first choice for many) for a classic ham and cheese sandwich, and makes a nice plate partner for ham. The sharpness of Cheddar cheese cuts through the sweetness of the glaze and balances the ham’s saltiness. The sharper, the better, in fact; choose a well-aged Wisconsin Cheddar and your ham will be happy.
Ham and gruyère cheese are often paired together. They have a nice flavor balance. Gruyère cheese has a distinct nutty and slightly sweet flavor with a hint of earthiness. The saltiness and savory taste of ham provide a nice contrast to the richness of Gruyère. Also, Gruyère cheese melts beautifully, becoming smooth and creamy without losing its flavor. This makes it an ideal cheese to pair with ham in dishes like grilled sandwiches or quiches, where the cheese can envelop the ham, enhancing its taste and creating a harmonious blend of flavors.
These soft, creamy French cheeses are nearly identical: very buttery and lactic in flavor with slightly earthy or mushroom notes. The creaminess is the perfect complement to ham’s saltiness and marries well to the honey flavor of the glaze. This is a decadently rich pairing that would be best reserved as part of a cheese course. And what better to accompany a fine Wisconsin ham than a rich Wisconsin Brie?
Blue-veined cheeses (Gorgonzola, Roquefort, Stilton or a high-quality Wisconsin blue cheese) are excellent with ham. These cheeses range from soft and creamy to salty and crumbly, all with a pronounced, pungent bite that plays off sweet flavors—such as a ham glaze—remarkably well. In fact, many people love to drizzle a little honey over blue cheese. When serving blue with ham, tend toward the creamy as opposed to the salty.
What Wine Goes with Ham?
Ham, like many of us, loves a variety of wines. Since ham is pork and occupies that middle ground between red and white, it fits nicely into that category of meats that go equally well with red or white wine. Here are some recommendations for the best wine to go with your ham dinner.
If you’re a red wine fan, a pinot noir—lightest of the reds—has the cherry fruit notes that go exceptionally well with the honey glaze, and the acidity to cut through the fat. Many pinots also have a smoky or earthy character that complements both the ham and the cheese listed above. Other reds, like merlot or syrah, would also work nicely provided they are more fruity than tannic. As a rule of thumb, the new-world versions of these wines (merlot from California or Chile, shiraz from Australia) more closely capture these characteristics than their more-complex French counterparts, and are more affordable.
For white wines, don’t go too dry. An Alsatian pinot gris or an off-dry German riesling has enough residual sugar to balance its acidity and complement the sweet ham glaze. A key element of pairing wine with food is geography. Honey-glazed ham is a northern European tradition, so a pinot gris from Alsace will tend to pair better with it than an Italian pinot grigio; it’s the same grape, but grown in a different region and with completely different flavors.
So that’s it – your Easter ham dinner is planned! Now all you have to do is send out the invitations, order your traditional, boneless or spiral-sliced ham, and get ready for a meal everyone will remember. The next day, there’s nothing like a ham and Swiss sandwich for lunch…
Ham & Cheese Sandwich Ideas
Once Sunday has passed, there is still likely plenty of ham still sitting in the refrigerator. What to do with it? Ham & cheese sandwiches! Ham and cheese sandwiches offer a wide range of possibilities for delicious combinations. Here are some ideas to inspire you:
Classic Ham and Cheese: Layer thinly sliced ham and your favorite cheese, such as cheddar or Swiss, between two slices of bread. You can enhance it with mustard, mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato. Or, grill your bread in a buttered pan and add cheese for a hot ham and cheese melt!
Grilled Ham and Cheese: Take your classic ham and cheese sandwich to the next level by grilling it. Butter the outer sides of the bread and grill it in a pan until the cheese melts and the bread is toasted.
Croque Monsieur: A French favorite, this sandwich features ham, Gruyère cheese, and béchamel sauce. Grill it until the cheese is bubbly and the bread is golden brown. Top it with a fried egg to make it a Croque Madame.
Hawaiian Ham and Cheese: Combine ham, Swiss cheese, and pineapple slices for a tropical twist. Toast the sandwich until the cheese is melted, and the flavors are nicely blended.
Ham and Brie: Layer thinly sliced ham and creamy Brie cheese on a baguette or crusty bread. Add some arugula and a drizzle of honey for a touch of sweetness.
Ham and Smoked Gouda: Smoky flavors from both the ham and cheese make for a delicious combination. Pair it with some caramelized onions or a fig jam for added depth of flavor.
Ham and Swiss Pretzel Roll: Use a pretzel roll or pretzel bun for your sandwich and fill it with ham and Swiss cheese. The salty pretzel flavor adds a unique twist to the classic combination.
Feel free to customize these ideas based on your preferences and experiment with different types of bread, condiments, and additional toppings to create your perfect ham and cheese sandwich.
Ham and Swiss Sandwich Recipes
For many, Swiss is the ONLY cheese some will consider with ham. As mentioned, ham and Swiss go together beautifully…and there are enough variations on the ham and Swiss sandwich that you won’t get tired of them anytime soon. Here are a number of tasty options, like:
…or the ultimate chef’s creation, the Gourmet Grilled Ham & Cheese with Wisconsin Swiss!
Buttery Baby Swiss Cheese
Winner of numerous awards, this younger, milder version of Swiss cheese is made by Jamie Fahrney at Chalet Cheese Cooperative