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Caring for a whole jamon serrano


alwang
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Recently for my birthday, my girlfriend bought me a whole, 20-lb, bone-in jamon serrano: this, by the way, is one of the awesomest gifts you can get for a foodie.

I thought about posting this in the Spain Cooking forum, but this is really more about how an American amateur cook can get the most out of this experience: I imagine it’s pretty commonplace for someone living in Spain. Below are an assortment of thoughts, suggestions, and questions around my relationship with this ham over the next few weeks.

- The ham was purchased from Despana in New York, and it arrived promptly, boxed and cryovac'd. The size and heft is truly awe-inspiring, though I was a little disappointed that they chose to remove the hoof.

- After posing and mugging for photo opportunities with the jamon for several days, we got around this weekend to slicing into it. There are several quite excellent tutorials on the web for how to go about carving a jamon. Here are a couple:

http://www.ibergour.co.uk/en/jamon/consumo/

http://www.iberianfoods.co.uk/carving_serrano_ham_03.htm

- Obviously, I don’t have a jamonera, the ham holding apparatus that you will see quality jamon purveyors use. I briefly considered purchasing one, but I couldn’t justify the cost or the space it would take up in my cramped kitchen. I just held up the foot end of the ham with my left hand, and carved with my right. This is very doable, and for a beginner, it gets you up close to the ham for more careful slicing. (The aromas hitting your nose from this up-close-and-personal carving are also intensely pleasurable.) Even though it's considerably more work, I definitely recommend going with a bone-in jamon: you get a very instructive appreciation of the anatomy and bone structure. After a couple of carving sessions though, I can certainly see the value of a jamonera: my left hand started to cramp up after a few minutes, and the stand would also be the ideal way to store the ham, as it's generally recommended not to let it rest flat. Any recommendations for a makeshift homemade jamonera?

- Obviously as well, I don't have a jamonero, or a dedicated ham carving knife. Shapewise, you need something that's long, thin, and a little flexible, in order to be able to travel along the contours of the ham and cut uniformly thin slices. It also needs to be extremely sharp, and you'll find yourself constantly resteeling the knife as you work through the ham. I've had reasonable success with a filleting knife. Skill and experience is also a huge factor- the two chunks of meat you're trying to carve, the wide, fatty maza and the narrower contramaza, both sit in the concavity of the bone, so the surfaces you're trying to carve are not flat. I end up with a few nice pieces, a couple of pieces which are overly thick, and a lot of tasty little splinters of meat.

- I was surprised at how much oil had exuded from the ham as I removed it from the packaging. Everything I've read says that the ham should be fine at room temperature, but this being the summer, sometimes room temp creeps up on the warm side. I wonder if that's causing a little more of the fat to soften than usual?

- I've heard varying reports on how long a jamon stays good after you've started carving it: anywhere from 2-3 weeks to 2-3 months. I'd be curious if anyone else had any opinions. Being that it is summer, I'm going to do my best to finish the jamon in a month, but it's going to be a serious undertaking. Four people barely made dent in this thing over two days so far. I'd appreciate any advice on the best way to store the ham: I just have it sitting on my dining table: the cut surface is covered with strips of fat/rind, and then the entire ham is wrapped in plastic wrap. As I mentioned, it's generally recommended that the ham is stored on a stand or hanging, but neither of those options seems easy to achieve.

- Most important, of course, is how should the ham be eaten? I've just been filching slices as I cut them, and jamon serrano that's freshly sliced really needs no accompaniment. It is significantly better than serrano that you might bring home freshly sliced from a store, as even that 30-60 minutes it spends in transit will begin to dry the meat. We also paired the ham with figs, a couple of cheeses (one blue, one aged Dutch cow's milk cheese), and a cranberry/walnut preserve. All were delicious, and I'm open to any other recommendations. I haven't tried cooking with the ham yet, but I'd be curious about any recommendations in that direction as well. Finally, at some point, I'll be left with the bone and a couple of large chunks of meat along the bone that aren't suitable for slicing: any recommendations for those items, other than a fantastic jamon stock?

Again, this is something that everyone should buy at least once: it really give you a fresh appreciation for this amazing product. I'll post any other thoughts I have (and perhaps some pictures) as I continue to work through it over the upcoming weeks.

---

al wang

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Great post, you're a lucky man....

This is going to sound pretty inane, but file it away for when you've tried everything else...I regularly enjoy some serrano ham sauteed almost until crisp as if it were bacon, then adding a tbsp or two of maple syrup, cooking for another 10 seconds, and putting it on toast with an over-easy egg. Depends on the particular ham, but sometimes this is revelatory.

+++

Edited by markemorse (log)
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What a lucky fellow you are!

I make a simple pasta dish with serrano ham from time to time. Cut some of the ham into small cubes (think the size of lardons) and sautee in a skillet. Once they have started to brown nicely lift them out and then quickly sautee some chopped squash, on fairly high heat so the squash browns before getting soft. I like to use small pattipan or very small yellow summer squash for this pasta. Larger squash don't work as well as they have too much water and won't let you get as nice of a sear. Once the squash are nicely browned, add you ham back in and give a healthy dose of black pepper, stir in some cream or milk and let it reduce quickly then toss in whatever pasta you like and finally, after you turn of the heat, toss in a nice farm egg or two. You could guild the lilly and sprinkle a nice grated cheese on top but it is not necessary.

As for the bone you will be left with, that is gold! Take it to a butcher and ask him to cut it into pieces for you. You can keep the pieces in the freezer and use them all winter for bean soups or for flavor in any other kind of soup you might want to make. You can use a single piece of the bone several times. For example, if I am making a pot of beans, I will start with a pot of water and my bone and let that come to a simmer and leave the bone in for maybe only 15 minutes or so then I will pull out the bone and add my beans to the pot. This gives me just enough flavor from the bone. You can simmer longer based on how much flavor you want. When you pull the bone out you can throw it back in the freezer.

Have fun!

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I'm loving the suggestions. I found myself at work yesterday wistfully longing for my ham. Is that weird?

I think my slicing technique is improving. I've found that it's actually a little easier for me to cut slices from right to left (I'm right-handed), pulling the knife towards the foot end. This is not what I was originally doing.

I am finding that the meat is drier and less oily than at first: I may brush the cut surface with a little olive oil in addition to covering it with fat slices. I'm hoping the other side of the bone, the wider maza, will still be well oiled.

---

al wang

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Great post, you're a lucky man....

This is going to sound pretty inane, but file it away for when you've tried everything else...I regularly enjoy some serrano ham sauteed almost until crisp as if it were bacon, then adding a tbsp or two of maple syrup, cooking for another 10 seconds, and putting it on toast with an over-easy egg. Depends on the particular ham, but sometimes this is revelatory.

+++

In a similar vein deep frying thin slices of serano until they grisp up taste amazing and make great ways to add floavor and be a garnish

Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.

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