Ham, Spanish — Jamón

Dad still cures his own legs of pork at home and they are very good, but it can never be the same as jamón from Spain. Jamón is the cured hind leg of a pig. The cured front leg is called paletas and the cured loin, lomo. The two main types of jamón are jamón serrano and jamón ibérico.

jamón serrano makes up the great bulk of jamón made in Spain, and is made in large commercial quantities from crossbred pink pigs. It is a classic family snack food — particularly when served with pan catalán (Catalonian tomato bread).

Jamón ibérico makes up only 10 per cent of the ham production in Spain but it is a truly wondrous food. It is made from Iberian pigs, which are an indigenous breed derived from wild boars. They feed outdoors on acorns in the great oak forests of Extremadura. The hind legs are salted for 3 months then hung to dry in secaderos (drying halls), where they dry for a further 3–7 months. During this time, moulds develop on the outside, imparting rich flavours. These moulds add flavour just as moulds add flavour to cheese. The legs are then transferred to cellars and aged for a further 9 months to over 3 years. During this process the jamones have lost 40 per cent of their original weight but have transformed almost miraculously in flavour. Jamón is hand sliced with a sharp knife along the length of the muscles into lonchas, translucent wafers of fat and flesh that melt on the tongue, releasing nutty and mineral aromas while pleasing the mouth with a smooth, round texture. We can now buy Iberian jamón here in Australia but it costs up to ten times the price of locally made jamón. Unfortunately, due to government restrictions, the bone is removed prior to shipping to Australia.

There are some good Australian made Spanish-style hams, generally cured by Spanish expatriates and these can be quite acceptable. If you can’t find jamón, use very good prosciutto.

Jamón bones are required for a few of the recipes in this book. These are the bones that remain from locally made Spanish hams and are available from some delicatessens. Prosciutto bones can be substituted and, at a stretch, a ham bone could be used instead.