How to Carve Spanish Ham
Carving a Spanish ham requires two essential pieces of equipment – the ham knife and the ham stand. It is important to keep the long flexible blade of the ham knife very sharp to maintain the thinnest slices possible. Ham stands are specifically designed for the purpose of clamping the ham securely to prevent movement.
2The second step is to cut the primary slice. This is achieved by cutting the top from the ham to expose the meat inside. It is also possible to carefully carve away the fat and rind from this top section to avoid wastage, a large slice however plays an important role later on.
Retain the slice mentioned above as this is used to help protect the exposed meat after carving has finished.
3This next step really does make carving your ham so much easier, depending on how much Ham is to be consumed cut away the rind from around the circumference of the exposed area.
The angle of the cutting action to achieve this should be almost vertical – just sufficient to remove an inch or so of rind.
Try not to cut away too much of the fat as this is all part of the flavour.
4At this point the ham is ready to carve, there should be a nice raised area of meat with no edges of rind to compromise smooth carving. The aim is to cut wafer thin slices, ideally these slices should be almost transparent.
Create a smooth sawing action, let the knife do most of the work for you (sharpen if required).
Resist the temptation to carve only in the centre of the exposed meat, this will result in a curve, try and maintain a flat surface at all times.
There may be small white specks in the meat, these are amino acids which have built up during The curing process. These white deposits are completely harmless and are actually regarded as a sign of quality curing and maturity.
5Eventually you will reach the hip bone, the most effective way to combat this is to take a sharp knife (a boning knife is ideal) and cut vertically all the way around the bone.
The area around the bottom of the ham (the punta) is more difficult to carve, small slices should be carved from this area or thicker slices which are ideal for recipes.
Once one side of the ham has been exhausted turn over and repeat the process.
The ham bone can be sawed into pieces once the ham has been completely finished, the bone is ideal for soups and stews and also makes a great stock.
Practice makes perfect!
Carving a serrano or iberico ham does take practice, the aim (and best way to serve) is in short thin slices. Try to cut your slices approximately an inch wide and three inches long.
The flexible ham knife is the ultimate tool for carving your ham. The knife needs to be kept very sharp. In Spanish restaurants and tapas bars where hams are always cut in view of the public the ham carver always sharpens his knife before setting to work, sometimes sharpening several times during slicing.
There are several designs of ham stand but by far the most popular and functional are the traditional design stands where the ham is placed either horizontally or standing up vertically at an angle. Decide which way you will feel most comfortable carving your ham. Tighten the screws or clamping system so the ham is fully secure in the stand with no movement.
Ham carving in Spain is sometimes even regarded as an art form, professional chefs and ham carvers make the tradition look very easy! Remember though the knife is ultra sharp and big heavy hams need a big heavy ham clamp.
After carving your ham, place the slices on a wooden board and allow them to breath for at least thirty minutes. This intensifies the flavour of the ham. The ultimate Spanish tapa is usually served with a good extra virgin olive oil and manchego cheese . . . see our recipe pages for some local ideas on serving your “jamon”.
Learn about your Spanish ham, on this website you have certain products which are named in Spanish (i.e. “Maza” or “Babilla”). These are cuts of boneless ham taken from a certain area of the leg. Whether you are buying a piece or indeed a whole ham here is a comprehensive list of ham vocabulary.
Areas of the Spanish Ham:
Jamon, pata* – Ham or hind leg of the pig.
Paleta – Front, smaller leg of the pig.
Pezuna – Hoof, almost always white for Serrano ham and usually black for Iberian ham but can also be brown.
Cana – Shin bone of the ham just above the hoof.
Jarret – Shank, a flavoursome part of the ham, these slices are sometimes used in cooking.
Maza – Rump, when the ham is placed in the stand with the hoof pointing upwards the maza is the part with the most fat on the curvature of the leg. Very good for slicing and full of flavour.
Babilla – Often carved first as this part of the leg is thinner. Opposite side to the rump/maza. Very good flavour as it tends to be more cured.
Punta - The very bottom, rounded end of the leg, nice slices are achievable from this area, the meat tends to be slightly stronger in flavour after curing.
*Pata – The Spanish word “Pata” refers to the leg of the pig or the full ham. The term “pata negra” up until recently has been used to describe Iberian ham although this is now regarded as incorrect. This description is no longer commonly used given the fact that not all Iberian hams have black hooves or indeed black hair. There are also different grades of Iberian ham to consider and it is worth noting that pata negra does not necessarily mean “bellota” (acorn fed).
Corteza - Rind or the outer skin, some Serrano hams and a large proportion of Iberian hams have the rind removed creating a “v” cut, named so as the removed rind leaves a “v” shape on the back of the ham.
Manteca – Lard or fat of the ham, important in the curing process and protection of the meat. Fat turns yellowish in colour when exposed, “Manteca de cerdo” can also be pure filtered lard used in cooking.
Grasa - Fat that is present within the meat in a streaky form, particularly noticeable in Iberian hams and an important factor that influences flavour.
Tocino - Fat that is present between the rind (corteza) and the meat.
Cristales – Amino acids, found in all good hams and sign of a quality. White flecks that are present throughout the meat.
Lonchas – Slices, usually rectangular in shape when a ham is cut by a seasoned jamonero (ham cutter). Lonchas are also described for machine sliced ham although ideally slices should be small and wafer thin almost to the point of being transparent.
Tacos – Ham pieces or small cubes usually used in cooking.
For a comprehensive guide on carving Spanish ham consider “Mastering the Fine Art of Slicing Spanish Ham” by Pilar Esteban Ordorica. A visual experience into ham carving with 363 photographs and contributions from some of Spain’s most respected ham carving experts.