This is a picture of a dish I knocked up from bits and bobs one evening – grilled aubergine and tomatoes topped with Serrano ham, mozzarella and manchego……….Ah…Spain….my heart skips a beat just at the thought of it. I love Spain. I adore Spanish food. It is more than that though – it is passion -a real passion for such great produce….great people…earthy, fabulous cuisine….OK ..that’s enough! You get the picture! Amongst my favourite contributions to the food world by Spain is Serrano Ham….say it again Serrano…it rolls off the tongue. Some foods just sound sexy before you have even met them. There is nothing more Spanish than jamón serrano.
This country ham ( the hind leg of the white pig) is a national treasure shared in Spain by all walks of life. Cured for at least a year, it has a much deeper flavour and firmer texture than its closest relative, Italian prosciutto, and less fat. The word “serrano ” in Spanish refers to the sierra, or mountains. Jamón Serrano is traditionally produced in mountainous environments where the air is clean, the moisture levels just right and the winters very cold. These are the traditional requirements for curing. The hams are placed in sea salt for a brief period of time – approximately one day per kilo – and then they are strung up. They are allowed to experience the changes of temperature as the seasons progress. The right time to eat them is when an experienced ham-master inserts a long splinter of cow bone and whiffs the jamón, like a connoisseur of wine who sniffs the cork. You will see them all over Spain, hanging from the rafters in delicatessens and tapas bars.
You must also try, if you have not already, Iberico Ham. The essential difference between Jamón Serrano and the marvellous Ibérico Ham (commonly known as “pata negra” or “black-hoofed” ham) is the breed of pigs and the diet they are fed on. Its curing process is very long too (over 2 years, twice as long as serrano ham) and it has outstanding flavour and aroma, much down to how the pigs are raised. These are truly spoilt pigs!
Immediately after weaning, the piglets are fattened on barley and maize for several weeks. The pigs are then allowed to roam in pasture and oak groves to feed naturally on grass, herbs, acorns and roots, until the slaughtering time approaches. At that point, the diet may be strictly limited to olives or acorns for the best quality jamón ibérico, or may be a mix of acorns and commercial feed for lesser qualities. The finest is called jamón ibérico de bellota (bellota being Spanish for acorn).
This ham is from free-range pigs that roam oak forests (called dehesas) along the border between Spain and Portugal, and eat only acorns during the last stages of their lives. Oh, and it is also VERY expensive! But. like all the best things in life…just tell yourself …’you’re worth it’ and buy some!
It actually only accounts for around 8% of ham sales in Spain. Both types are mounted on special stands called ‘jamoneras’ in order to slice them thinly. As well as eating it cold, it is also great to use serrano ham in cooked dishes.
I always have serrano in the house…you should too. It is so versatile. My two children adore a breakfast I occasionally make on Sundays using quails’ eggs and serrano ham.
For 4 of you, fry 2 or 3 large slices of serrano shredded slightly in olive oil until crispy. Crack 8 quails eggs into a bowl. Add gently to pan with ham and fry them for a couple of minutes or until the whites turn opaque. Sprinkle over some grated parmesan and let it melt a little, then scatter over some fresh thyme leaves and a twist or three of black pepper. You can make this with regular eggs… but I prefer this version.
And if you are going to woo someone this weekend…woo them with serrano…!