I HAVE GOT MY AMAZING HAM…! COOL BUT…NOW, WHAT?
Tips to properly carve your ham, and things to do and avoid to preserve it.
There is no product that better represents Spain than the beautiful piece of ham (rear leg) or shoulder (front leg) that becomes omnipresent when you visit any of the Spanish cities. In addition, that iconic product is one of the most precious food items in the world, so you decide to get one: congratulations!
So you placed your order on www.lajamoteca.com and, just a few days later, UPS delivers a spectacular styrofoam case that contains the gastronomy jewel: welcome home, baby!
Mouth watering moment, full of excitement: you cannot wait to open it and start carving on it! But, hold on! How do I do this without destroying the ham or cutting myself in the process?
These are the basics steps you need to know when buying a “jamon”.
1.- Stand and a long and flexible knife are a must.
Yes, you need one of each if you want to do it properly. You can always use one of your kitchen knives and ask your wife to hold it while you try to cut into it, but, please, don’t make us accountable if you get cut or, even worse, if your wife gets cut (remember that divorces are way more expensive than a stand and a good knife). Don’t be cheap: it’s worth having the right tools.
2.- If you see it, you eat it.
Hams take from 2 to 4 years to cure (or, in other words, to get rid of the water activity inside and become cured-shelf stable), so by the time you get it, it’s ready to carve.
Except for the first few weeks, hams are always at room temp (it’s salt’s duty to prevent the meat from spoiling) so, if the ham is perfectly fine for years, why do you think it is going to damage in your kitchen? Your kitchen’s counter is the place to have it and at room temp is the way to keep it. Ham doesn’t like cold, so avoid the fridge, please.
Display it as a gastronomy jewel (that’s what it is, in fact!), not in hidden in the fridge (and remember: if you see it, you eat it).
3.- As a good chef, first make the “prep”
As happens with many other gourmet items (even with some people! Lol), the good part is in the interior, so we have to do a little bit of work to have the product ready to be enjoyed.
The ham or shoulder comes covered by fat (and remember this: the fattier you ham is, the better it gets), the same fat that it’s been preserving the meat from drying out along the entire curing process (from 2 to 4 years, depending on the quality, size..etc). But that external surface is no longer edible, so we have to trim the ham as first step in the carving process. Just make sure to get rid of the yellow fat and keep only the white/pinky one. Also, only trim the part you’re going to carve and leave the rest in its original shape.
4.- Each side is a good side
Depending on whom you ask to, they may tell you to start carving from one side or the other. So, what is the right side? Our advice: enjoy the best part of the ham first! (which is the wider and fattier, called “maza” in Spanish). Don’t wait!
If by the time you flip your ham over and start carving the narrow and leaner part it’s a little dry (after a number of weeks), you’ll have enjoyed at least 55%-60% of your ham and, on top of that, the best part!
5.- Size (of the slices) matters
Paper thin, bite size, please! You have to be able to put the whole slice in your mouth and feel it melt without almost even chewing it (that’s why has to be very thin –to facilitate the fat to melt- and no longer than 3 inches long).
Please, please, please, do not make long slices: leave those for the regular ham from the regular grocery store. This is something else and unique. Compare it to caviar: have you ever seen caviar being enjoy with soap spoon? You haven’t, right? (please, tell me you haven’t!). Both products have such an intense taste that with a little bit...it goes a long way.
6.- Fat is not the enemy, but the most valuable friend
Fat is what defines the quality of the meat in any cut of any animal so, please, see it as friend, not as “enemy”: do not trim your ham too much or leave the fat on the plate. Fat is flavor and, in this particular type of ham/shoulder, this fat is also healthy (like extra virgin olive oil, or the fat in salmon or avocado). Fat is our flavorful friend.
7.- Cover your ham just as Mother Nature does.
Do you know anything more perfect than Mother Nature? Nope, nothing, none. So if Mother Nature sends us the ham surrounded by fat, and fat prevents the meat from drying out: how do you think is the best way to preserve your ham? Eureka! Yes! Once you have finished carving your ham, cover it up with fat (that fat that you trimmed at the beginning -check p.3).
Please, do not use kitchen clothes or other elements to cover the ham (even if your friend from Spain tells you to do so): just fat and, if you want, some plastic wrap to isolate the ham as much as possible. Just imitate Nature! And then, please, send us your friend to have his/her Spanish passport removed J
8.- When your ham gets makeup.
Depending on how long you keep your ham and how much humidity there is at home, it may occur that you find some white mold on your ham. Do not panic!! Remember point 1: a good Iberico ham does not spoil! All you need is paper, olive oil and wipe off that moldy area. You’ll see how mold disappears and your ham will shine as on the first day!
9.- Maximize it! Slices or cubes
There are two very basic rules when carving ham: please, don’t get cut and please, don’t throw anything away. Slices are the most elegant way to enjoy ham but there are parts that cannot be sliced: just get those parts, chop them up and enjoy the chunks! (known as “tacos” in Spanish, nothing to do with Mexican tacos, also delicious but…different stuff, ok?).
You can also be creative and use the ham to cook it with mushrooms or beans, with risotto, with salmorejo o gazpacho… Just maximize every inch of this jewel!
Yes, the bone is also part of the ham and, hence, also useful! Use it to make broth or delicious soups: you’ll realize how much flavor it adds to anything you cook with it!
And after all the above and once you have mastered your skills with the knife, you have trimmed the ham, have enjoyed those thin slices, have discovered the amazing properties of the fat, have cooked croquetas with those chunks of ham and have made a soup with the bone, at this moment, you deserve another beautiful ham!
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