How to eat: Iberian ham | Spanish food and drink

Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has a lot on his plate at the moment. But no, you imagine, any ham. The very thought probably makes Sánchez break out in a cold sweat after he recently stood at a cattle fair in Extremadura and mistook Serrano ham for Iberico ham. In a country where cured ham is considered as necessary to sustain life as air and water, this epic failure of the common man is right up there with Gordon Brown’s “love” of the Arctic Monkeys or George Osborne’s dismissive attitude. toward Greggs. What is Sanchez? British?

In fairness to poor Pedro, air-dried ham is confusing no matter how brief you try to keep the explanation. Serrano ham, cheaper and more common, is made from various breeds of white pig, such as the Duroc, and is classified according to the aging time, between six and 18 months. In contrast, the prized and expensive Jamón Ibérico is created from Iberico de patas negra or black-footed pigs and is graded based on the purity of the pig’s breed, its diet, and aging periods of up to five years or more. The best, largely acorn-fed ham is jamón ibérico de bellota, with black label hams from genetically pure black Iberico pigs outperforming red label cross-producing.

Taking into account the more than 2,000 years of history and craftsmanship that are hidden behind the creation of the humblest ham, not to mention the skill involved in serving it (the cutters serve an apprenticeship that can last five years), the least that we can do is eat it with due consideration. That’s where How to Eat comes in, the series that explores the best way to enjoy our favorite foods.

It is the inspiration for one of the worst football kits of all time and “possibly the best food in the world” (as writer Simon Majumdar once said on this website). It’s time to get productively stubborn about Spanish ham.

Cook ham?

If you have to cook ham, the one you should use is the everyday serrano according to chef José Pizarro’s recipes. There is an argument that all but the cheapest industrially produced ham tastes better on its own, but certainly cooking with Iberico is like taking a sofa to the end in a new Bentley; see Still Open All Hours in an Imax; or wrap a wet dog in a coat from Comme des Garçons. That’s a shocking waste of an amazing product, and one that will cost you a fortune. At London delicatessen Brindisa, 100g of high-end pre-sliced ​​Iberico will set you back £26.75, while Serrano starts at £3.95.

That explains why, while there are only four recipes on the comprehensive BBC Good Food website that incorporate Iberico into cooked dishes, Serrano is common in croquettes, fried crispy in salads or garnished with soups such as salmorejo, and with scrambled eggs. or fried for breakfast. Serrano’s salty weight brings a new gravitas to any frivolously light and creamy egg dish.

A quick note on sandwiches

Unless you’re James Bond’s old nemesis Jaws, it’s impossible to take a clean bite of any sandwich containing serrano or its cured European cousins, like prosciutto or Bayonne ham. They are just too fatty. You’re left tearing and pulling at your sandwich like a dog struggling to take a bone from its owner. It’s also a fallacy that even the sweatiest, meltiest ham will self-lubricate in a sandwich. Spanish food excels in many areas, but the prevalence of dry ham sandwiches, not touching even a drizzle of olive oil or tomato pulp, is bewildering. Live a little, Spain: put on some butter!

Serving: company of two, crowd of three

This is not from a Labrador. It’s best to let any half-decent ham shine in the spotlight alone: ​​silky, sweet, earthy, boldly flavorful, and slightly tart. Particularly if you’re eating a good Iberico, its lush intramuscular fat with acorn-derived monounsaturated oleic acid, can stand alone. It’s its own satisfyingly complex and self-contained world. You don’t need to pair it with crusty bread, pickles, tomatoes, Manchego or random cheeses, other continental meats, chutneys and remoulade, or any of those other items that nervous British restaurant kitchens feel they must come up with to confidently charge a premium for such a product.

Such over-elaboration actively detracts from the ham, muffling its flavors with a variety of minor ingredients. In Spain, you might see ham served with breadsticks or bread and oil, but these play a similar role to Andrew Ridgeley’s in Wham! – just a beautiful showcase alongside true talent and, cf. George Michael’s solo career, totally expendable.

Serrano ham and Iberico ham hanging in a shop in Barcelona in Spain. Photograph: Steve Allen Travel Photography/Alamy Stock Photo

Temperature control

Experts advise that ham be served between 20C and 24C. Easily achieved in Seville, except in Swansea or Salford. At HTE Towers, for example, the thermostat is only raised above 19°C in times of medical emergency. Given that, some suggest that consumers should run packages of sliced ​​ham under hot water before opening or even hold individual slices of ham in their hands until the meat is heated through. Only then should you devour it. Was this the subliminal meaning inherent in Lady Gaga’s VMA meat dress?

It’s inarguably true that eating ham cold in the fridge is a huge waste: its flavors are dull and dull, while at warmer temperatures its nuances sparkle and shine. Ideally, the ham should be as sticky as a subway at a July rush hour, its fats beginning to drip and run so that when sliced ​​thinly, the ham almost melts on the tongue, flooding the mouth. flavored as you go. suck him gently into submission.

As an aside, this is why ham only works as an additional topping with pan con tomate if, as it rarely happens, the pan is still hot and the tomato pulp is at room temperature rather than, again, fresh out. from the fridge.


Given the tendency of warm ham to stick to china and cold plates to harmfully cool the ham, a wooden board or a clean square of crisp white parchment paper is preferable from a practical and aesthetic point of view. Speaking of which, you might come across intimidating images of wafer-thin slices (deftly carved pieces of ham, ideally one or two bite-sized) arranged in very precise concentric or geometric patterns, alternating diagonally like little cobblestones of ruby red in color and sometimes decorated with a ham rose. Like the art of latte, this decoration is charming and utterly pointless: a fleeting, unnecessary moment of fun (unlike the handy “meat volcano,” where a ceramic heating cone keeps the ham toasty).

As long as your slices are laid out flat without overlapping too much so that they stick together, all is well. For that very reason, avoid the tendency to serve longer strips of ham cleverly folded and rolled side by side on a plate, like a wave of pork products. It may look appealing, but long pieces of meat can cause you to pull them awkwardly or get too far into your mouth to avoid fighting, and if you share a plate, you may find yourself fighting over interlocking pieces of ham. HTE has seen serving ham as if it were playing Twister, which, like Twister itself, is no fun at all.

Of course, there is no need for cutlery here. Use your fingers. Anyone who visits Spain and sits there primly trimming the fat off ham (best!) with a knife and fork deserves to be deported.


Dinner and tea in its natural form, without decorations; serrano with eggs for breakfast. So basically all the time, if you want it – 24/7 hog action. In fact, that utility can be a problem, leading fans – and HTE have been guilty of this – to binge on lesser-quality ham until they hit a wall (or the end of a fortnight’s vacation). in Spain, as it is also known). Familiarity breeds, if not contempt, then boredom, as you begin to wonder what all the fuss is about. Like any of the world’s best foods, ham is best enjoyed at dignified intervals, preferably freshly cut from a whole leg of something good by someone who knows what he’s doing. Save it as a gift. Like, for different ecological reasons, we should all eat meat.

To drink

When talking about ham, it’s impossible to ignore its association with sherry, and specifically the dry, spicy fino and its saline subset, manzanilla. Which is a bit of a problem for those of us, HTE included, who also find some sherry, well, sherry. Clearly, that’s not a small group, given that every year in the last decade has been hailed as “years of sherry,” without really intersecting. Those who are unconvinced, however, have options: clean and energetic brut cavas, crisp and fruity and, on the same pitch, flavor wise, dry and tart saisons, drier ciders and even some lighter wheat beers. and spicy would work well, periodically enlivening the atmosphere. palate without clashing with the lingering flavors of all that rich, buttery ham.

So, Spanish hams… how do you eat yours?

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