100% Iberico bellota ham, is well known by everybody as the star among Spanish gourmet eats, if you’ve tasted it you’ll guess why! Although we find it now in many places outside of Spain, eating Iberico ham, at its best, just carved from the leg, is not something easy. Even in Spain people tend nowadays when they have a whole leg of ham to take it to the local deli to have it sliced and vaccum packed. However, if you really like this product we recommend that you make the little extra effort in order to learn how to carve a leg of ham, and taste the difference!
The first thing is to buy the carving gear; in this case the ham holder and the ham carving knife. The ham holder usually has a wooden or metallic base and some metallic supports on which to secure the leg in the correct position. The carving knife is a long, flexible and very sharp knife, that will allow us to carve very thin, fine slices. We’ll also need a second shorter strong kitchen knife for the preparation of the carving areas.
So let’s get going:
- Adjust the ham in the ham holder
The ham is usually set with the hoof facing upwards, so that the exposed area at the top, is what we call the “maza”. This is the widest part of the leg, where we’ll find the juicier meat. Make sure to adjust the screws well, so that the ham doesn’t move.
- Now we have to “peel” the ham:
What we’ll do is to remove the hard skin and the yellowish fat that covers the external part of the ham, until you reach the meat. For this you should use the short kitchen knife. If you think the ham will be eaten in a single day you can peel the whole leg, otherwise it is best to remove only the skin and fat covering the area that you will start carving, as the rest will continue to protect and keep the juiciness of the remaining parts of the ham. We also recommend that you preserve a few slices of the fat you remove, so as to cover the carving area once you’ ve finished.
- And now begin carving:
In order to begin carving we should have before us a completely even surface. Then you can begin, carving always horizontally in the opposite direction from the hoof.
The slices should be so fine, as to be nearly transparent. Each slice should be presented with a certain amount of white fat. Have in mind that very differently from what we’re used to in other meat products, the composition of this fat, due to its high percentage of oleic acid, similar to that in olive oil, in not unhealthy. The fat in the Bellota 100% Iberico ham is where the flavour and aroma concentrate, so it must be eaten together with the meat. So please don’t remove all of it, you’ll be killing the product!
As you keep going and the carving surface goes down, you’ll need to continue cleaning the sides: use again the kitchen knife to remove skin and oxidized (yellow) fat.
Once you reach the hip bone, you’ll need to make a few vertical cuts around the bone, so that you can continue to obtain clean horizontal slices around it.
- The slices:
The slices shouldn’t be more than 5 to 6 cm. long. You should be able to put them whole in your mouth, to really let the full taste of the ham explode inside.
The ham must be eaten at room temperature (something around 21ºC), so that the fat has a little shine in it. The oleic acid in this fat should be near melting (don’t worry if the ham “leaks” a little bit, it’s a sign of the true “bellota” products)
- Turning the ham around:
Once you’ve finished with this wider area of the Maza, you should turn the ham downwards, so that the hoof now faces down. You will now begin carving the “babilla” area, a bit less juicy, with less fat, but a strong taste.
Remember always to make the maximum of the leg: cut into small gobbets all those areas that are difficult to access in the shape of a slice. These are great as a cooking ingredient (try them with vegetable dishes and you will see how they change!!).
Also don’t throw away the bones, they are incredible for making broths!
Check on the web to buy all you need, there’s quite a decent choice of carving gadgets from which to choose. If you want to do it in a single go, try the “Master carver hamper” offered by Jamones Juan Pedro Domecq (www.jamonesjuanpedrodomecq.com): a true first class 100% Iberico bellota ham of the best quality with its ham holder and carving knife. You can find it at Selfridges, London.