My Ham

It was late on a Tuesday morning recently when I received a text from my friend, Melissa.

“A client gave us an Iberico ham,” she said. Problem was, she has two young vegetarian daughters who were going to be mortified at the sight of a whole pig leg with a hoof. “Are you interested in it?”

I was.

Jamon guitar with Curtis

Jamon guitar with Curtis

She suggested her husband, Paul, wanted to get a little something for it. I offered him $300, he said, “Great!” And I had myself a whole Iberico bellota ham.

I’ve written about Iberico before — the most expensive ham in the world. At $150 upwards a pound, I had purchased $30 worth a couple times — a few measly shavings that were well worth the cost. And now, I had upwards of 14 lbs. For about two seconds, I wondered if I’d paid too much for it. But a bit of online research confirmed that I had done well — the least I saw a Cinco Jotas Iberian ham selling for on deeply discounted sale was $1,000, not including the stand we also got that came with it.

After he sold it to me, I proceeded to tell Paul how delicious Iberico is. And I could tell he was feeling seller’s remorse.

“Maybe I’ll buy a chunk back from you,” he offered.

“No need,” I said. “I’ll share.”

Girls figuring out the pedestal

Girls figuring out the pedestal

The Iberico is a breed of black-hoover pig that roams the oak forests of Spain, eating acorns. The hams are aged for three or more years, the meat ruby and tender, the fat unctuous and nutty.

The first thing to do was invite some people over.

I put the lady folk to the task of deciphering the IKEA-esque instruction sheet and setting up the porky pedestal that came with the ham. Then it was done, the ham was staged. And we all stood there staring at it.

I had texted Paul: “We’re having ham. Come on down!”

A few minutes later the door opened and Paul and his vegetarian daughter joined the fun — she scowling at the item as she passed by on her way to my daughter’s bedroom.

The night proceeded in something of an orgy of porky goodness. Different people took turns at the ham, carefully slicing thin bits off and handing them about, or placing them on buttered crusty bread. Spanish wines poured like water on a hot day, completing a culinary celebration of Iberian terroir.

There was other food too — some five-spiced Kurobata pork jowl found it’s way into lard-seared flour tortillas with plum sauce and scallions. Don Schneider brought caviar — salmon, paddlefish and Israeli sturgeon — and I whipped up some buckwheat blinis. But the Iberico was the star.

Dig in!

Dig in!

Late in the evening we sat around the ham like the stuffed, sated animals we were — still sawing off a bite here or there, almost out of reflex. For all our work, we’d barely made a dent.

The next morning, the ham was still there, on its pedestal in the center of the table, still commanding the room. I left it there. That night, different friends came for dinner, and out came the knife, bread and butter. I had prepared a proper dinner for this evening — Spanish in theme, including an uncured Iberico bellota presa shoulder steak — but it was still mostly the ham that dominated the conversation.

Sunday morning, I finally wrapped the ham in plastic and wedged it into the fridge, where it remains — awaiting its next starring appearance at a dinner party soon.

Late night... Oh, the ham, Oh, the wine.

Late night… Oh, the ham, Oh, the wine.

I can’t promise you Iberico. But if you make your way to a Japanese market and can get your hands on some fatty jowl, here’s the recipe for the tacos. Pork belly would work nearly as well.


*    *    *

Chinese-style pork jowl tacos
serves 4

1 lb. pork jowl, sliced in 1/2-inch strips (or pork belly)
1 tsp. Chinese five spice
1/2 tsp. salt
8 small flour tortillas (“snack” or “taco” size)
1 tsp. vegetable oil
8 scallions, white and light green parts only, slivered
8 tsp. plum sauce

Toss together the salt and the five spice, and sprinkle over the pork.

Place the vegetable oil in a skillet on the stove over medium-high heat. Cook the pork strips, turning frequently, until crisp and golden — three to five minutes. Remove from pan.

Brush each of the tortillas with a little of the reserved oil from the pan, and toast in the hot pan until soft and translucent, about 30 seconds per side (you can do 2-4 tortillas at a time, moving them around the pan).

Brush each tortilla with a tsp. of plum sauce. Add a couple strips of pork and some scallions, roll up and serve.

13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mom
    Feb 06, 2015 @ 00:38:16

    Damn! These are the only times I feel remorse for moving.


  2. timoirish34
    Feb 06, 2015 @ 01:17:39

    How I envy you, SC. Reading your post was almost like the real thing. Since I first learned of the acorn-fed jamon iberico, I have dreamed of a trip through Spain–to visit the occasional cathedral or museum sure, but mostly as an excuse for frequent stops at the local bars for slices of jamon, tapas and short glasses of red wine.

    Last season, the titular character of TV’s Hannibal served his dinner guests a jamon–the origin of which was left to the viewer’s imagination. BTW–have you ever seen Hannibal? The plots are the stuff of the average potboiler, but the cuisine in the dining sequences is as lushly photographed as I have ever seen on TV or in feature films. If you can forget that it supposed to be people, it looks damned appetizing.


    • scolgin
      Feb 06, 2015 @ 16:43:55

      They have a “Museo de Jamon” in Spain (“Museum of Ham”), which is chain and is sort of a cross between a restaurant and a shrine. They take their ham seriously. (And Iberico puts the very best proscuitto Italy could offer up to shame.)

      I have not seen that particular show. It does remind me, however, of a cult movie my pals and I used to get stoned and watch in my teen years called “Motel Hell,” where the guests had a tendency to disappear… and the proprietor was known for the deliciousness of his sausages, which carried the ominous tagline: “It takes all kinds of critters to make Farmer Vincent’s fritters.”


  3. Lori Koefoed
    Feb 06, 2015 @ 05:23:29

    Come Saturday evening, you may regret the timing of this particular post 🙂


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