14 July 2010
Carving your Spanish ham wafer thin
One of the most common mistakes to make is to continually carve the ham in the center, thus creating a "curve in the leg". An easy habit to fall into but ultimatley will degrade the ham and result in wastage - exactly what we are trying to avoid so... keep the carving level, don't be afraid of the hip bone and life will be made infinately easier!
One tool that will make carving your Spanish ham easier is a boning knife, if you don't have a boning knife then any small sharp knife will do, there comes a certain point when after carving your first few slices you will come across the hip bone. There is still plenty of meat around the hip bone and the best way to take advantage of this is to cut around the bone (about an inch in depth, vertically), this will allow you to cut smaller slices from around the bone that will simply fall away.
An important point is to continually cut around this part of the ham as well as slicing from the broader part of the leg (see photo). This practice will keep your ham as flat as a board. A level ham is much easier to carve those wafer thin slices as a pose to a ham with a "curve" in it. Less wastage and better flavour are the end result.
Equipment ie carving knives are also an essential part of succesfully carving a Spanish ham. The ham carving knife comes in various different lengths, the most common being between 25 - 30cm. These knives are flexible with very thin blades and are designed for the purpose. Expert carvers boast an array of knives but for simple home carving all that is required is a small knife for boning and the ham knife (sometimes known as a "jamonero").
Keeping your knives sharp is also a fundamental aspect of Spanish ham carving, the jamonero should be sharpened regularly - even during carving if a lot of slices are required. Place the blade over the meat at a 30 degree angle and cut just a millimeter into the ham then, level up horizontally and slice nice and level. There is no right or wrong as to how big or small ham slices should be as long as they are thin, ideally you should be able to see the blade of the knife through the slice. Your ham should then be served with your chosen accompaniments (tomatoes, cheese, olive oil, olives, almonds etc) and left for a few minutes until they begins to "sweat".
When ham slices sweat they form very small beads of transparent fat on the surface, it at this point that they have optimum flavour and should be enjoyed.
For more detailed advice on ham carving please see the Orce Serrano Hams website.