15 January 2011

Spanish Ham Pieces

Spanish ham pieces come in several different shapes and sizes. A boneless Serrano or Iberico ham piece can be more expensive to buy (per kilo), ideal though if the recipient is not enthusiastic about carving a full leg nor needs a full 8kg ham. There is the advantage that boneless ham pieces (particularly smaller ones) do not require the Spanish ham stand - an essential piece of equipment for a full bone in leg. Ham pieces are always presented vacuum packed which means, unlike whole hams that they can be placed in the fridge and will last months unopened and around 5 weeks opened - not that it would need that time as usually the ham is enjoyed way before any recommended shelf life deadline!

There are four main ham pieces which you can buy, these are the "Maza", "Punta", Babilla" and the "Centro". The latter as the name suggests is the center of the ham and often regarded as the best, most succulent part. However... if you are after a slightly stronger flavour then the Maza piece will certainly deliver in that department. Both of the afore mentioned will weigh approximately 3kg with the Punta and the Babilla weighing around 1.5 - 1.8kg.

The smaller ham pieces are just as flavoursome and ideal for tapas, a smaller investment too which makes them good to trial before progressing up to a full leg. It has to be said though that while these ham pieces are very good indeed there is really is no substitute for the "full leg" flavour. Expect a Babilla to have little fat, perhaps half an inch on one side, meanwhile the Punta will have slightly more fat (preferred by Spaniards) running through the meat.

Easily carved with minimum waste, fine flavour and simply stored ham pieces represent the ideal opportunity to enter the world of Spanish ham without breaking the bank nor investing in essential equipment although a flexible ham knife will always be highly recommended to acheive those wafer thin slices.

Tips for flavour: Besides from carving the ham as thinly as possible it is crucial to let the carved ham breath at room temperature for ten minutes before serving. Direct from the fridge is not ideal. Slices will begin to "sweat" at room temp, it is at this stage the ham should be enjoyed with a good red wine, Manchego cheese or whatever accompaniments you have in mind.

Storing in the fridge is simple, your ham piece should ideally come with a breathable muslin sock which can be used to wrap up the ham. In the case of larger pieces and as with whole hams it is good practice to rub some olive oil over the exposed part of the meat as this will help keep it moist.

More on Spanish ham care coming up and an additional article "Serrano Ham from Birth to Consumption" HERE


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