Traditional American Ham
Bringing Flavor Back to the Ham By HAROLD McGEE in the NY Times is very good.
HAVE you ever placed a vanishingly thin morsel of rosy meat on your tongue and had it fill your mouth with deepest porkiness, or the aroma of tropical fruits, or caramel, or chocolate? Or all of the above?
A really good dry-cured ham can do just that. Not a standard pink, cooked ham, juicy with injected brine, but a raw ham preserved by the application of dry salt, hung up to age for months or years, then sliced paper-thin and eaten as is, uncooked, yet transformed into the intense, silken essence of meat....
I recently tasted dry-cured hams from Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Iowa, and some rival Europe’s best. Their makers are variously determined to revive country ham and to develop American versions of European classics. They have made significant progress by rediscovering the ingredients that made dry-cured ham so good in the first place, when pigs were fattened on the autumn harvest and their meat preserved for scarcer times.
Above all there’s the pig, which should be mature, well fed and free to run around. Muscles of such an animal are packed with the raw materials for creating flavor, enzymes that will catalyze the first stage of that creation, and fat to lend tenderness and moistness.
Then there’s time. It takes many months for muscle enzymes to break down flavorless proteins into savory amino acids, odorless fats into aromatic fragments, and for all these chemical bits and pieces to interact and generate new layers of flavor. And it takes months for meat to lose moisture and develop a density of flavor and texture.
Berkshire hams are in scant supply and sold mainly to restaurants. But Edwards’s Surryano is $19.95 for 12 ounces at virginiatraditions.com, (800) 222-4267. La Quercia’s Green Label prosciutto, from a Berkshire cross, is $32.95 a pound for 8- to 10-pound pieces at laquercia.us, (515) 981-1625.
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