Tamale Claus

‘Twas the day before Christmas Eve, and all through the house, it was going down.

The kids were bickering and the wife and nanny cleaning, while in the kitchen a veritable assembly line of tamale production was stirring — chickens boiling, corn husks soaking, banana leaves being cut into squares, masa simmering on the stove.

Tamales steaming

Tamales steaming

I enjoy testing my ethnic and regional chops serving our very international community of friends and associates the food of their native country — as I did with our pal Brian’s Japanese girlfriend when I made a winter kaiseki dinner. Our nanny is from El Salvador, which I figured was close enough to Mexico to count her as a voice of authenticity for my Mexican tamale. More

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. More

Skinny Girls at Rachel’s Table

I am the king.

I am the king.

Awhile back, my friend Rachel of the fun blog Rachel’s Table dubbed me the King of the Food Snobs. More

Happy Birthday to Me

What to get the guy who has everything for his birthday? Something that will not take up space, and that preferably disappears quickly. Why, food and drink, of course!

Pork belly confit with fava beans

“It’s your birthday. We should be throwing a party and cooking for you,” said my friend Nat when I invited him to my very small birthday celebration. One should do exactly as one chooses on their birthday, I reassured him. And for me, that meant not going to a club or out to a fancy restaurant, but surrounding myself with my kids, a few close friends, and some really good food and wine. More

The Most Expensive Ham in the World

jamón iberico bellota

I’d been reading about the stuff for years. A mythical ham cured for years from the meat of the black-hooved Iberian pig, left alone to wander among the oak woods of Salamanca foraging for acorns — “bellotas” in Spanish.

If you’ve ever been to Spain, you know they’re serious about their ham. One of the most popular restaurants in Madrid is the Museo de Jamón — the “Ham Museum”. And in a country that takes its ham this seriously, iberico bellota is king. For years if you wanted some, you would have to travel to Spain. Only recently was it cleared for export to the United States, with our stringent regulations against the importing of long-fermented, unpasteurized things.

Guy carving iberico bellota

Iberico bellota is one of the best things I’ve ever put in my mouth. It will make you forget that proscuitto de Parma you used to think was so good. I love to watch the guy carving slices from the whole ham in the traditional manner (it is never sliced on a machine like proscuitto, so it always has a rustic, thicker quality). The meat explodes on your tongue in layers of flavor — nutty and dense, elegant and briny — and the fat is unctuous and silky. I must stop talking about it now or I’m going to have to excuse myself…

It is, indeed, the most expensive ham in the world — I pay $135 a pound for it, and am grateful for the privilege. I don’t buy it often, and usually get a quarter pound for $35. It’s plenty. You might have trouble finding this stuff. If I were you, I would make like a detective and do whatever you had to do to pick up its trail. If you live in L.A., I get mine at Surfa’s in Culver City. You could likely get it at the Spanish Table in Seattle (I know there’s a few of you out there). Probably Dean & DeLuca’s or someplace like that in NYC. You could buy a whole one online from tienda.com for $1,400. (Let me know… I might go in on it with you.)

A recipe?

Buy some iberico bellota. And eat it. Serves 1. (You won’t want to share.)

If you have to do something to it, get the best crusty loaf of bread you can buy, get the best butter you can buy… tear off a piece, spread a little butter, top with iberico bellota, and sprinkle with a little Maldon salt.

In heaven, iberico bellota will grow on trees like figs.