Today has been good – the morning spent on Dunstable Downs with my family walking below soaring gliders and para-gliders. Lunch at McDonald’s. Then my son watched Star Wars for the very first time and my wife suffered countless Chewbacca impressions from the pair of us as I prepared a mid-afternoon ham snack.
I wanted the Spanish stuff. The stuff that gets thinly sliced off a stiff pig’s leg, which looks and smells a bit grisly and gets clamped on a wooden stand like a bad joke of a hunting trophy. It needs nothing with it. Even on its own it’s a snack of big contrasts – salty upfront with a sweet finish, fairly dry in appearance yet moist in the mouth. Rich, deep, earthy and at the same time sharp and delicate – like the voice of Nina Simone on a plate.
We’re told that a lot of the really important work precedes the butchery. I want to believe these are happy pigs embedded with flavour long before curing, gorging as they do on acorns and other titbits in the leaf litter of a Salamancan oak forest, blissfully unaware of their destiny as outstanding cold meat.
Eating Jamon Iberico reminds me of visiting my wife (girlfriend at the time) when she used to toil in the heat of Madrid as an English teacher. We’d sit in grubby tapas bars drinking rough Rioja and eating microwaved tortilla and platefuls of sublime ham. We were young and clueless. One night we tried somewhere more modern, a bit more fashionable – a bustling, bright plastic place. We’d become so used to ordering small portions of nibbly bits, we failed to realise that their evening menu wasn’t selling tapas at all. The waiter didn’t bat an eyelid as he plonked seven full-sized main courses on our table…big skewers of grilled chicken, mussels cooked in wine, cubes of fried steak…Thus a funky night out had somehow turned into an episode of Man (and Wife) vs Food. And yes, Man won. And yes she did order dessert. And yes I ended up eating most of that too.
Spanish ham really is best eaten on its own. Therefore the following ideas are a bit silly. No need for it really…
Jamon Iberico crostini with minted pea butter
I tried this as a canapé once, blending melted butter with uncooked fresh or frozen peas and loads of mint. I allowed the mixture to sit before spreading on toasted rounds of baguette and topping with folded slithers of ham.
Ingredients: Jamon Iberico, baguette, butter, peas, mint
Jamon Iberico with nectarines, cream cheese and walnuts
I tried to put together some fresh, earthy, Spanish-y ingredients in a very simple way. It turned out alright – could make an easy dinner party starter. I topped a dollop of cream cheese with small pinches of crushed fennel seeds and smoked paprika. Ham was strewn over the plate, after which I scattered with chopped nectarine (peach or apricot would work) and broken nuts. Finally I placed on a few leaves and dots of olive oil.
Ingredients: Jamon Iberico, nectarines, cream cheese, walnuts, fennel seeds, smoked paprika, leaves, olive oil