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Organic Annie - De-mystifying Spanish Ham

De-mystifying Spanish Ham is a must read for all budding Ibiza cooks - recipes and shopping locations incl.

De-mystifying Spanish Ham

Spanish ham, herein referred to as ‘Jamon', is something of a national phenomenon in Spain. Cookery book author, Claudia Rodin, in “The Food of Spain” calls it ”the undisputed king of Spanish gastronomy.” Considered some of the world's finest ham, it is appropriately so described.

Jamon is not only a crucial ingredient in the Spanish kitchen, but is one of those things that can be found everywhere, any restaurant, bar, coffee bar or market and be acceptably eaten, at any time of day. And it can be very good, sometimes divine and sometimes so very divine, a taste like a gift from the gods. (It originates from the Romans, who considered it a delicacy.)

De-mystifying Spanish Ham -

The two varieties of dry cured jamon, Serrano and Iberico resemble Italian Prosciutto, but are cured longer with a more elaborate quality control, regulating production and purity. With cured ham, the rule is longer the better, the slow dry enriches and intensifies the flavour. It goes without saying then that the Spanish ham is considered to be more flavourful.

Jamon Iberico

De-mystifying Spanish Ham - Jamon Iberico Bellota

Iberico ham, often referred to as Pata Negra, comes from the black footed pig, directly descended from the wild boar. It is the absolute finest quality ham, bar none. Aged up to five years, it can be seriously expensive, but is one of the world's delicacies. The three classifications are strictly controlled on purity, of breed and diet. The pigs are registered and the hams clearly labelled. It is rich red, streaked with a delicious fat that gives way in the mouth not unlike the finest quality chocolate, especially the Belotta (see below)

The Iberico Bellota, (acorn), is pure Pata Negra, free range, cured the longest and during the fattening period, gorges on acorns and all things natural in the cork forests of Southwest Spain. It is the ultimate, think gift from the gods, and the price at 140 euros per kilo or better, is reflective. But aged the longest, it is dry, and so light in weight. 200 grams serves four generously. Belotta etiquette dictates it be eaten sliced razor thin, served solo on a slightly warmed plate, accompanied by fabulous bread, and salted olive oil. Simple, let the flavour resonate.

De-mystifying Spanish Ham - Jamon Iberico Recibo

Jamon de Recebo, the second finest, is 75% pure Pata Negra, free range, but fed on a combination of grain and acorns. It is very nearly as divine, with a less dear price.

Cebo, or Jamon Iberico, has the same purity of breed, 75%, but is farm raised on a grain diet. The flavour discernible from Recebo, certainly so from belotta, is still very much a delicacy.

De-mystifying Spanish Ham - Cebo

Jamon Serrano

Jamon Serrano (meaning “of the mountains”) from the dry mountain air that facilitates the cure, comes from the common white pig. It is cured for up to 24 months with three denominations based on leg quality and length of cure.

Gran Reserva, the best is longest cured, up to 24 months, are the largest legs. Reserva, medium legs, cured up to 15 months and Bodega, (cave), up to 12 months, using the smallest legs.

Serrano is the second highest quality ham in Southern Europe, the longer cure is reflected in the flavour and in the price. While most of the Serranos are fabulous, Gran Reserva, obviously the most expensive, like the Belotta, is unequivocally delicious.

How To Enjoy Jamon

What is eaten with Jamon, or not, is guided by the type and quality of the jamon. Price is reflected in the grade so buy according to the recipe. A good general rule is the more expensive the simpler the preparation. Do not cook an expensive ham or pair it with a strong flavour - seasonal fruit or bread only. Above all, do not refrigerate, the flavour is best left at room temperature. Lastly, always eat Belotta alone, bread and accompaniments on the side.

Can Riero (the family farm on Ibiza), in September, is bursting with soft ripe figs and the last of the melons. These are a perfect match for the Recebo, cebo, gran reserva or reserva hams.

Likewise, the lesser hams are delicious fried, a favourite we call frazzled ham. Serve it like you would crispy bacon, on a salad with hard boiled eggs, croutons and a simple vinaigrette. The possibilities are endless.

Recipes:

Jamon smothered Melon

  • 1 medium sized ripe melon, Spanish or Cantaloupe
  • 150 grams Jamon, best quality, not Belotta

  1. Slice the melon in half from top to tail. Scoop out the seeds, and slice each half into 4.
  2. Run a sharp paring knife between the skin and the ripe flesh the length of each slice, but leave sitting on the skin, like a serving dish.
  3. Load onto 4 individual plates or a large serving dish.
  4. Drape whole pieces of ham and serve.

Serves 4

Jamon Stuffed Figs:

  • 12 of the ripest, juiciest figs available
  • 150 grams Jamon as above

  1. Wash and dry the figs, cut off stem and cut a criss cross into the top, about half way down each fig.
  2. Take the fig from the bottom and with four fingers carefully squeeze the fig upwards, the red flesh will rise slightly and the points from the crisscross will open, creating a flower shape.
  3. Using fingers, ball up individual pieces of ham and stuff into the fig.
  4. Plate and serve.

Variation: Stuff a pinch of soft, melt in the mouth goat cheese down inside the fig, followed by the fig. The cheese could be mixed with a little fresh thyme, salt and pepper.

Where to Buy Jamon on Ibiza

Charcuterie Ramis: New Market, Mercat Nou, #10-20, and C/ Cataluna, #12, both in Ibiza town. St. Eularia Market, #16-17
Ismael has a big selection and lots of knowledge. He cleans and cuts the legs into chunks, ready to slice. Ismael also sells Iberico ham bones, perfect for soup. He carries a full range of charcuterie, Spanish and local cheese, organic cheese and eggs, local products, olive oil, salt, etc. It is a veritable treasure trove.
971332125

Gastro-oh!: C/ de Castella, 30, bajo, near the New Market, Ibiza Town
Here hams are all Iberico and sliced by hand on the traditional stand. They employ an expert buyer ensuring a fine selection and carry other Iberico charcuterie, wine and a small selection of Spanish delicacies.
971090515

Carniceria Javi
New Market #89-90, Ibiza Town 630180868
Javi sells Iberico pork, It bears mention because it is amazing. The meat is pure, tender and succulent and the price seems to be within a couple of euros more per kilo.

Please see Organic Annies previous article on Homemade Ice-cream!

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