Sliced Spanish Ham
There are many differences between Spanish ham least not between Serrano ham and Iberico ham, both of which are entirely different products. So which one to choose can be a bit of a minefield to ensure you get the right ham for you. If you love Iberico then you will probably know the differences and should you be a Serrano enthusiast then the milder bodega’s compared to the more intense reservas and anejos will be a matter of taste but what about sliced ham?
Sliced Spanish ham usually comes in vacuum packets of 100g – 250g, from there we move up to smaller ham pieces which need to be carved. Sliced ham “pre-packs” have the distinct advantage of being wafer thin – the way ham should be but will have been machine sliced to achieve an element of consistency. This in the main, is not a negative especially regarding convenience but compared to hand sliced ham or “cortar a mano” the machine sliced ham, by its very nature is long measuring up to eight inches where hand sliced ham is always shorter, in the professional ham carving world there is even a specific target size to which slices need to cut.
On the flavour front vacuum packed Iberico ham tends to fare better than Serrano ham, this maybe because the flavour is more intense, nutty and usually packed by the secadero (curing house) from where the hams have been hung. Serrano ham on the other hand, which accounts for 93% of ham production in Spain can be more comercialised. Buying good sliced Serrano ham is crucial in order to experience the true flavour of this meat – especially if you are testing the water before committing to a whole Serrano ham leg. Low grade sliced Serrano ham cannot always be determined by price… Pale slices are suggestive of a bland mass produced ham and will boast no flavour particularly if the slices are separated by plastic sheets. These separation sheets are there for a purpose as the ham is sliced transparently thin but it can leave a “plastic” aftertaste which when considering Spanish ham is a gourmet food is not ideal. Packs such as these are however good for cooking as thinly sliced ham can be wrapped around the likes of chicken breasts and fish fillets.
Sliced Serrano ham really needs to be cut to order, this will ensure that the ham is both fresh and offer the best flavour, texture and aroma. Your flavour of Spain will be compromised if left to sit for weeks in storage or on a shelf. For anyone considering entering the world of Spanish ham we would recommend buying a smaller Serrano ham piece where flavour is significantly more retained both within the meat and surrounding fat which is also vital to the flavour.
Vacuum packed ham slices are ideal if you need to discover the flavour of Spanish ham, perhaps you would like to compare the differences between Serrano and Iberico ham without the significant outlay or taste the differences compared with Italian or French cured ham. Once you have chosen your packs and are ready to open then we recommend letting those slices “breath” for at least 15 minutes and bring up to room temperature before enjoying with accompaniments such as manchego cheese, quince, nuts or good red wine.
- Top Tips:
- Buy freshly packed from Spain.
- Hand sliced (“cortar a mano”) will have more flavour.
- Leave to breathe for 10 – 15 minutes.
- Serve with complimentary flavours.
- Know that direct from the leg will be better still.
There is however no getting away from the fact that hand carved slices taken directly from the ham itself pack a far more delicious and natural flavour punch. One advantage of experimenting with vacuum packed ham slices is that you can be sure that in future, should you decide to invest in a full leg then that flavour will be even better! Although the emphasis here has been on Serrano ham it is worth mentioning that all grades of sliced Iberian ham are quite different on the taste buds either vacuum packed or as a full bone in ham, the same message does apply though – the leg is always a more in depth gastronomic experience.
Buying Ham Slices: Here at Orce Serrano Hams we deal with several of the highest quality hams in the Andalucian region. For freshness we use “Carniceria de Orce” for your slices who will cut your ham in situ, to order, so you can be sure that your Serrano slices came from a whole ham only 5 days beforehand. Iberico ham slices come from Pedroches Valley in Cordoba and also the town of Guijuelo. Look out for hand carved packs for a delicious “teaser” on the palate . . .
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