HAM - FROM BIRTH TO CONSUMPTION
& COOKING ARTICLE
is Serrano Ham?
Spanish serrano ham is the cured hind leg of the pig.
There are many types and grades of serrano ham depending
on the area in which the animals were reared and hams
cured to the length of the curing process distinguishing
bodaga hams to grand reservas. Hams weigh around 7.5kg
and full cured legs come with hoof. Boneless hams
are also available (ideal for the catering industry)
as well as ham pieces.
hams are naturally cured, given the topography of
Andalucia the term "air cured" is often
used as the altitude can be up to 4000m above sea
level. Winters are cold and summers very hot and with
little humidity these conditions are perfect for naturally
curing Spanish ham.
serrano ham has been a vital ingredient in the staple
diet for generations and although these hams remain
an economical purchase given the sheer amount of meat
they produce they are now commonly regarded as a "gourmet"
meat product particularly in countries outside Spain.
are three main breeds of hog that make the serrano
ham, these are the Large White, Duroc and Landrace.
The pigs from which the ham is produced should not
be confused with Iberian hogs which produce the world
hams. The latter are a very different ham
and come from a different type of hog accounting for
only 6 - 7 % of ham production in Spain, you may know
these hams as black footed or pata negra. However
it is worth noting that not all Iberian pigs have
black hooves and the term "pata negra is now
deemed unsuitable as a reference to Andalucias D.O
hogs are related to the wild boar and in some cases
acorn fed resulting in the exquisite Iberico ham however
the humble serrano ham, (which is a different ham
altogether) boasts various grades depending on how
long it has been cured for.
are no other ingredients involved in curing serrano
hams except, salt, air and time. The salt used is
called "sal gordo" or "fat salt".
The hams are trimmed and any remaining blood pushed
out from the leg before being buried in the salt.
Times vary depending on the curing house but as a
general rule the hams are buried for one day per kilo
of weight or 10 - 12 days. (The fresh ham weighs considerably
more pre cured and loses around 30 - 40% of its weight
during the curing process.)
the ham is removed from the salt it is then cleaned
(a process called "asentamiento") and hung
for an initial period of 1 to 2 months. During this
time the temperature remains between 5 and 10 degrees
with a humidity of 75-80%. This first stage is important
because the moisture is dried out which means the
ham and the salt infuse together to concentrate the
hams are continued to be hung (traditionally on knotted
rope) for a minimum of 12 months. During this time
the hams begin to take on the "cured" qualities,
yellow fat and dark red meat . The slow curing is
essential to allow the hams to adapt to natural conditions
which is why cold dry winters and low humidity are
essential to create a perfect serrano ham. During
the beginning stages of this process the hams will
be covered in a mould which is essential to the curing
process, enhances flavour and helps make the Serrano
Ham what it is.
final stage of the curing process is called 'maduracion'
and takes place during the last month or so. During
this all important last stage, temperature and humidity
are increased considerably to allow the fat to filter
evenly through the ham, further concentrating the
By the time the hams reach the final stage of the
curing process, the meat will be perfectly cured and
they will have lost up to 40% of their original weight.
now ready to eat, many hams are transferred to bodegas
or cellars to be allowed to mature even more, in days
gone by old "cave houses" were used to cure
hams given the relatively constant temperature inside
The traditional method of hanging hams on knotted
rope which can still be seen in some establishments
today is to hang the hams from the ceiling on hand
tied knotted rope.
of Serrano Ham
most commonly bought serrano ham in Spain is the serrano
ham "bodega" this ham is usually cured for
a year and can be regarded as a standard example.
There are however many Spanish serrano hams which
are cured for much longer and the grade depends upon
this length of time.
/ Curado - 12/14 months
- 15/16 months
Reserva - 16/20 months
- 24 months
flavour and intensity of the meat varies a lot as
does texture, older hams such as the grand reserva
and anejo posess a far better texture and tend to
have a tremendous depth of flavour, these hams are
ideal with strong wines and cheeses. Bodega hams on
the other hand are a mild flavoured ham, still possessing
a nice aroma and flavour but a lighter ham, ideal
for tapas, cooking and summer salads etc.
about blue, red or black labels? The "etiqueta"
is the circular label tied around the leg of the ham
below the hoof; this usually bares the producer's
logo and any other relevant information. Sometimes
these labels are coloured and labelled for example
"etiqueta negra" or "black label"
this is simply an indication of curing time (black
labels are normally cured for the longest i.e. Grand
Reserva equivalent), the labels should also detail
the minimum curing time of the ham.
a serrano ham may at first appear to be a rather confusing
operation! Certainly in Spain the customer will be
spoiled for choice with a huge array of hams produced
by different secaderos from different regions. Now
though with the advent of the internet and online
purchasing that decision has been made a lot easier
thanks to accompanying information and retailers searching
out the very best examples available. Hams can now
also be exported from Spain throughout EU member states
and some countries outside the EU.
to any producer and their hams will be the ultimate
best in the area, this however simply cannot be the
case and with different curing times and salting duration
the simplest way to gauge a good ham is to sample
its flavour, this is of course impractical but a good
delicatessen should be able to tell you where the
ham originated, the name of the curing house, how
long it has been cured for and its flavour and texture
characteristics as well as other information found
on the label (for example the CEE number)
are other factors in choosing and buying the right
ham. Its intended purpose - what will it be predominantly
used for and how will it be consumed? For cooking
and day to day tapas a 12 month cured serrano ham
will suffice (also the most economical to buy) For
personal consumption lets say with good wines or for
prestigious functions a top of the range Anejo or
grand reserva would be a better choice. Boneless hams
and ham pieces are also suitable for catering and
machine slicing as well as for personal enjoyment
should a full leg be too big.
must not leave out the "Paleta". The paleta
is the smaller front leg usually weighing around 4.5
- 5.0 kilos. These small hams are cured in exactly
the same way (although not for as long) as their larger
cousins and produce the same flavour and aroma.
secaderos cut their hams into a "V" this
basically means that the rind has been removed from
the ham although the fat remains. This practice is
common on boneless hams and leaves a "V"
shape on the back of the ham. The reason the skin
is removed in this way is to make carving easier (in
the case of boneless hams for machine carving). Full
leg hams can have the skin removed in this way as
well although the practice is increasingly less common.
The removal of the skin plays no part in how the ham
cures nor has any influence on its flavour, texture
ham is an extremely healthy option, as said above
these hams have played a nutritious role in the Spanish
diet for decades. The meat is easily digested and
contains vitamins B1 and B2, iron, phosphorus and
proteins. Serrano ham come recommended as part of
a healthy balanced diet.
its own the serrano ham is a true experience of Spain
with tones and aroma reminiscent of the Mediterranean.
Slicing the ham wafer thin is key to flavour and texture,
however once sliced the ham needs to "breath"
(just like a good wine) and in the case of refrigerated
pieces brought to room temperature. A good tip is
to leave the carved ham for ten minutes where it will
begin to sweat - it is at this point that the sliced
ham tastes its very best.
ham is the ideal tapa, the most famous in Spain along
with the humble olive! Serrano ham goes particularly
well with the following:
(melon, peach, nectarine, grape)
being Spain's most famous tapa the serrano ham can
also be used in many recipes. The flavour of cured
serrano ham in recipes really does add a Spanish twist!
Some examples are:
and Ham Quiche
your serrano ham arrives it will usually have rind
on one side (*unless it has been cut in a "V"
- see above) and should always come protected by a
breathable "ham sock" (funda). The ham can
be kept hanging like this in a cool place for about
4 months if you don't need to carve it straight away.
Once you've started cutting your ham it is best to
consume it within four to six weeks.
is important to cover any exposed areas of meat to
keep it fresh and prevent it from drying out. The
most effective way to do this is to keep the strips
of rind and fat that you cut off to start with and
re-cover the exposed meat as you go along. Another
method is to smear a little olive oil over the meat
before covering as this will help keep the meat moist.
store your ham away from humidity, serve your ham
at room temperature. Keep your ham somewhere cool,
dry and airy. Serrano hams should never be kept in
the refrigerator, even after carving has begun.
exception to the rule however is with boneless hams
and ham pieces as these always come vacuum packed,
because of this a low temperature is required. You
can keep your vacuum packed ham in the fridge and
protect it in the same way as described above.
only way to store and carve your ham is to place it
in a ham stand called a 'Jamonero'.
This special stand ensures the ham is secure while
you carve, very important from a safety point of view.
Also this means your ham is always accessible and
ready to carve at all times. There are various models
of ham stands available from professional rotating
models to the basic, each has one purpose only and
that is to secure the ham. As a general rule use a
big ham stand for large, heavy hams to increase stability.
the ham in the ham stand and secure using the spike
on the base and the screws in the holder.
make a deep cut around eight inches down from the
hoof using a sharp strong knife.
the fat from the body of the ham depending on how
much is to be cut. Only remove the section of rind
where you plan to begin slicing. If you remove too
much rind the meat can dry out.
the edge of the exposed meat cut away the fat at a
forty-five degree angle, this will leave you with
a "ridge" of meat. Retain the fat for placing
over the exposed meat when finished.
you've removed the rind, you can begin slicing. Again,
using traditional Spanish "tools" is the
only way to ensure the ham is cut correctly. The Spanish
ham knife or "jamonero" (same as the stand)
is long, narrow, flexible and very vary sharp. It
is essential to use this type of knife to achieve
the all important wafer thin slices of ham. You know
you are on the right track when you can see the blade
through the slices you are cutting.
start at the narrowest part of the ham as here there
is very little fat so this is the part that will dry
out first. Using your flexible ham knife, cut along
the ham as straight as possible. When you have removed
the meat from this section, turn the ham over and
repeat the process on the other side.
both sides are finished you can work on the tip of
the ham, always cutting along the length of the bone.
The tip of the ham has a slightly stronger taste because
while the hams are hanging during curing, this is
where the fat and salt concentrates.
you have removed all the meat you can also "scrape"
the bone with a sharp knife to get the last of the
meat from the fibula.
the most skilled ham carvers cannot remove 100% of
the meat from the bone, however the bone makes a fantastic
stock for soups and stews. The bone can be cut into
four sections (inc hoof) discard the hoof and use
the remaining three lengths of bone to boil up and
make a very tasty soup, broth, casserole etc.
- Ham Carving Knife
- Muslin Protective sock
- Cellar (standard cured ham)
- Small plates of food served with alcoholic drinks
researched and written by Gayle M Hartley
& Iain Macdonald of www.orceserranohams.com
Copyright Orce Serrano Hams - www.orceserranohams.com
Hub-UK : firstname.lastname@example.org