It was Nigella who made boiling bacon in Coke famous in the UK, and she says you should never use Diet Coke. She's not diabetic, though, so she can shut up.
I did this on Christmas Eve, and the results were pretty good. I took a nice ham, stuck it in my biggest pot, added two litres and a bit of Diet Coke, some apple juice, and lots of cinnamon and black pepper, brought it to the boil, and simmered for about an hour. Then I fished it out, put it in a roasting tray, poured a few spoonfuls of the cooked Diet Coke mixture over it, covered it in foil, and roast it for about an hour, removing the foil for the last twenty minutes or so. Then I left it to cool overnight.
Like I said, the results were very good but not good enough. The ham is exceedingly delicious, but not all that Cokey. I don't just want a little hint of Coke flavour around the edges; I want lots, right through. I don't think this is a result of using Diet Coke instead of Coke: I did this with Coke once before, with similar results. Part of the problem may be that the recipe is designed for bacon, and I'm using ham: ham is denser than bacon, so might be more resistant to permeation by the liquid. The other problem is simply that Coke isn't strong enough.
So here's my plan for next time.
I'm going to use at least twice as much Diet Coke, and reduce it before using it. And I'm going to leave the ham sitting in the liquid for a whole day before I turn the heat on.
I shall report back.
This one's looking controversial. James at Arcanus Maximus says that the Aspartame in Diet Coke breaks down.
To clarify aspartame when heated breaks down into methanol, and other chemicals. At best it wil lose it's sweetness. At worst, it might become toxic chemicals. The end result is debated. It is best not to use it in cooking at all.
I have several family members who are diabetic so I understand the dangers of sugars as well. In the ham recipe the sugars are meant to caramelize and form a crust. I doubt diet coke would do that. The acid and other flavors would also improve the taste and tenderness. At best diet coke I suspect would add little to the flavor, but I have no clue. I haven't tried it.
I have to say that nothing toxic appears to have occurred, but I haven't submitted the ham for chemical analysis or anything: for all I know, havign eaten a few slices of this stuff, I'm going to die a few days earlier than I had been going to. But I doubt it. Coca-Cola are well aware that Coke gets used in recipes. If cooking Diet Coke were seriously dangerous, their lawyers would have stuck warnings all over the bottles by now.
But James is right about the crust: there isn't one, not that that bothers me: it's the flavour through the meat that concerns me. And he appears to be right about the sweetness: there's not much. As I said before, the ham is still delicious, but, next time, I'm going to try adding a load of Splenda, too. Still plenty of acids and other flavours in Diet Coke, though, and they appear to have had some effect.
If you don't have some good health reason to avoid sugar, use Coke. It probably gives better results and might not kill you.
Estelle has emailed to say that she reckons that aspartame does break down into something dodgy:
Nigella may have said not to cook the ham in
diet coke because it is not healthy. I have a degree in chemistry and I have
read a little about this matter: it is unhealthy to cook artificial sugar.
Well, I'm not dead yet, but, if I may say so, buggeration.
Back to the drawing board.