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Article researched and written by Orce Serrano Hams

Cooking with Spanish HamCooking with Spanish ham adds flavour to a multitude of recipes, cured ham in Spain in often served as a tapa with an alcoholic drink but Serrano ham is just as at home in the kitchen as it is on the tapas bar. There are quite a few dishes, both hot and cold that can be complimented by good ham, some require the ham being hand carved directly from the leg itself while other recipes call for pre sliced ham for wrapping. Here we will discover some classic Spanish recipe ideas as well as some rather different and lesser known ideas for incorporating Spanish ham into your cooking.

Serrano ham as an ingredient

There are various ways to incorporate Serrano ham into recipes which will offer a real Spanish twist to your dishes. Ham can be sliced in different ways but the most common are hand carved slivers, strips or diced pieces. The way in which you prepare your ingredient will depend on the dish ie: when stuffing, diced ham is far more workable, hand carved ham is better for recipes that require that authentic touch or when arranging an artistic display, as when carving direct from the leg you yourself can determine and cut the ham to required size and to a degree, its shape. Vacuum packed ham also has its place, better from the leg but when it comes to wrapping say, fish fillets then the machine sliced ham certainly has its role being more pliable and broader through the slice.

However you intend to cook with your ham it is worth bearing in mind that flavours do vary between mild “bodega” ham through to “Gran reservas” which are more intense. It may seem like sacrilege to cook those ham slices but the results are truly worth it!

Hot dishes

Serrano ham goes extremely well with chicken, the flavour pairing is a real gastronomic experience so much so that the Granada region of Spain has its very own “Pollo Granadina” or Granada chicken. The recipe uses diced Serrano ham which, when cooked with the chicken, turns almost crispy and adds a mild saltiness to what is essentially a very simple dish. Staying with chicken, Serrano ham either diced or cut into strips also works very well with tomato salsa adding flavour to the delicious ‘Pollo con tomates”. Chicken breast can also be stuffed with Serrano ham and for the simple joint of pork even Christmas turkey try draping some thin slices over the top of the meat for an authentic bacon influence to your cooking.

Cooking with Serrano ham need not be complicated; after all it is simply an ingredient, a compliment or addition of flavour so whether you intend to serve it crispy, mix with pasta or wrap up that fish fillet Serrano ham is sure add a real hint of Andalucia to your cooking.

Cooking with Iberico Ham
Cooking with Iberico Ham

Cold dishes

As one of Andalucia’s most famous tapas you are likely to receive Serrano ham in any Spanish bar, either on its own or accompanied by bread and olive oil or with fruit or nuts. One of the more famous pairing is with melon; the Cantaloupe melon works best pairing the sweetness of the fruit with the mild saltiness of the ham, an ideal weekend breakfast! Serrano ham is also used in a variety of salads adding flavour to fresh summer lunchtime dishes. Manchego cheese is another favourite as are grapes, figs, almonds, cold smoked salmon and ripe vine tomatoes.

With cold dishes we also enter the world of Iberico ham, the famous cured ham from pigs fed on “bellotas” or acorns. This ham is expensive and rarely used in cooking hot dishes. The flavour of Iberian ham is very different to that of Serrano ham and as such requires very simple pairing and accompaniments, at 50.00+ euros a kilo that flavour needs to be truly savoured! Iberico ham works with seafood such as king prawns, many salads and also the lightest of grillings on a quails egg tostada, also try some iberico ham shavings over a cold melon soup – delicious.

Which part is best?

As mentioned at the top of this page it may seem rather odd to start cooking with your ham straight away, after all, Spanish ham can be expensive and one needs to enjoy all those flavours and aromas especially when the ham is first cut into. A plump 8kg Serrano ham will last for up to 6 weeks (see ham storage) but during the latter stages of its life the ham can still produce some moist meat. The area around the “punta” or the top of the ham opposite the hoof is the most difficult to carve, it is from this area that, with a sharp boning knife you can achieve thicker slices which can then be chopped and diced for your recipes. This area also tends to be slightly more intense in the flavour department because the meat is narrow and any remaining salts after the ham has been washed have travelled “south” while the ham has been hanging.

Meat can also dry out during the latter stages, should this be the case then you have the ideal opportunity to remove and finely dice this part of the ham to almost a breadcrumb consistency – great over soups or sprinkle over your roast pork or chicken for added flavour.

Cooking with Serrano Ham
Cooking with Serrano Ham

The ham bone

There comes a time where the meat from every full bone in ham will be exhausted however there is still life in that old ham yet! Even the expert ham carvers will tell you that it is impossible to remove 100% of the meat – particularly around the hip joint which is one the more challenging places to carve from. What you will have left is a leg that will make a unique and very flavoursome stock.

The best way to achieve a good stock from a full ham bone is to divide it into thirds or quarters depending on the size of your pan. The hoof will need to be discarded but the remaining bone can be boiled up, bagged and frozen for later use if required. Whilst making your Spanish ham stock add some black peppercorns, bay leaves, carrot, leek or onion to enhance the flavour. Ham bone stock is a great basis for a mixed meat paella and can also be used for broths, soups and of course stews.

Health benefits

Serrano ham is easily digestible and contains high levels of acidic and unsaturated fats which help regulate cholesterol levels. It is an ideal food for a balanced healthy diet due to nutritional properties. Each ham contains vitamins B1 and B2, iron, phosphorus and proteins. The fat content in Serrano ham is an important factor effecting quality. Fat helps balance curing and plays an important role in the result of a premium quality ham. The fat surrounding the meat need not be discarded and should be enjoyed as a flavoursome part of the ham.

Other Spanish cured meats

There are other Spanish cured meats which deserve a mention and are also great in the kitchen. Chorizo is by far the most popular Spanish sausage and lends itself to cooking very well indeed. Try chorizo braised in cider with apple or a chicken and chorizo fry up for lunchtime tapas. Pan fried chorizo also works over spinach and is great with tomato salsas, the humble chorizo also comes in various strengths so you can choose how spicy you need a recipe to be. Don’t forget the barbeque either; mildy cured chorizo is delicious on kebab skewers with apple and pork.

Pancetta is mildly cured belly pork (similar to streaky bacon) and although salty is a good substitute for fried bacon, try a tostada with fresh ripe tomatoes to balance the flavours or add strips to pork and liver dishes. Morcilla is a Spanish black pudding made in sausage form, a famous blood sausage from Spain morcilla is usually sliced and lightly fried in olive oil but there are other ways to enjoy it – Wrap morcilla in fresh pancetta and slow cook for a melt in the mouth dish with a cinnamon twist or use sliced in one of the most famous dished from the north of Spain “Fabada Asturiana”.

Cooking with Spanish Ham
Cooking with Spanish Ham

Enjoy . . .

No matter how you decide to cook with your Spanish ham, enjoy the flavour, recipes from Spain by their very nature are simple and let the ingredients do the talking. Serrano or Iberico ham conjures a unique, gourmet taste of southern Spain and are extremely versatile so whether you are planning a roast, a salad or an arrangement of Spanish tapas, enjoy your ham and a true flavour of Spain!

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