Many gourmands from the US are avid fans (one could almost say ‘rabid’ fans of bacon)
Bacon is nice, I’ll agree, and it certainly has it’s uses. I’m confident that with the exponential growth of all things food related in the US there are many wonderful artisanal bacons available.
But for sheer versatility, both in flavors and usefulness, I don’t think it can compare to dry-cured ham.
Excuse me while I duck the virulent curses and rotten tomatoes being thrown at me.
Actually, let me duck the whole issue of bacon and go right to the ham.
Ham is meat from the hind leg of a hog.
There are three classifications of ham in the US:
Fresh ham, which is basically a pork roast, not salted, cured or smoked.
City ham, which is soaked in or injected with a brine, cooked, then smoked. This is known as Paris ham (Jambon de Paris) in France In France, however, one rarely sees the entire ham served as a roast; it’s normally thinly sliced for sandwiches.
Country ham, known also as dry-cured ham. The leg is rubbed with salt and hung to dry. They may or may not be also smoked. They may or may not have additional herbs and spices rubbed in. The process can take up to 2 years.
In the US they are usually cooked before eating.
In Europe they are sliced thinly and eaten as is, occasionally the thicker slices are cooked. I’m not aware of a dry-cured ham ever being cooked as a roast. I think the food police would be at your door in seconds.
Probably the most widely known dry-cured ham in the US is Prosciutto.
I often call for Prosciutto in my recipes; not a lot, just a bit to add flavor. It’s the case of a little going a long way.
But, I never use actual Prosciutto.
I use Bayonne or Vendéen or Serrano, or any number of other dry-cured hams that are available here.
In my mind it denotes the type of ham and it’s up to the cook to decide which they prefer or what’s available in their market.
Other well-known dry cured hams are:
Jambon de Bayonne: French dry-cured ham rubbed with Piment d’ Espelette.
Jambon de Vendée: French dry-cured ham bathed in eau de vie and coated in a blend of spices including cinnamon, pepper, thyme.
Jamón serrano: Spanish dry-cured ham – specifically, air-dried in the mountains, not smoked.
Jamón Jabugo de Bellota: Spanish dry-cured ham, made from special, acorn-fed black-hoofed pigs, considered by many to be the best dry-cured ham in the world. It’s even a healthy ham…. It has a high fat content making it silky on the tongue and very richly flavored. The good news is, because of the pigs’ diet, the most of the ‘white’, as the fat is called in Spain, is monounsaturated. Jamón Jabugo de Bellota is one of the best things I have ever eaten…. sliced thin, right off the leg…. Sigh….
This is a Jamón in the special stands used for supporting it while slicing.
Bayonne Ham Palmiers
Preparation and cooking time: 5 minutes
- puff pastry sheet, roughly 5″ X 8″ (12 X 20cm)
- 2 slices thin dry-cured ham
- Lay ham on pastry and roll into a cylinder
- Wrap in cling film and refrigerate until used. It’s easiest to slice if chilled for an hour and can be made 2 days ahead.
- Remove from fridge and slice 1/4″ thick (.6cm).
- Lay on nonstick baking sheet and bake, 400F (200C) for 8 – 12 minutes, until pastry is golden.
- Remove and serve immediately or allow to cool and store in airtight container.
A good dry-cured ham can be expensive. (A top of the line Jamón Jabugo de Bellota can be over $1,000.00 for the leg (12 – 15lbs) – not that one would ever do anything with it but slice and nibble). Fortunately, with the intense flavor one only needs a little.
A few other ideas: