Jamon Serrano

Jamon Serrano (mountain ham) has deep rooted traditions that traverse Spain's cultural history for hundreds of years. The quality, origin of the pigs and production of this salt cured jamon (ham) is a source of pride to Spanish producers. Unlike Italian prosciutto, jamon serrano is processed whole and with the pig's hoof hence, ham on the hoof.

Years back it was customary for every family to butcher a pig in the fall and preserve the meat by salting and making an assortment of  cured sausages aged over winter. The cool mountain climate provided ideal conditions to properly cure and age the jamon. Noting that curing jamon used to be a common family occurrence and since I truely enjoy this jamon, I decided to try my hand at making it, my version is called Sonoma Serrano Jamon. As with any good jamon quality of the pig is important, here are the sides that I'll be using for the Sonoma Serrano Jamon legs.  The legs do require a special cut to achieve the traditional look of a jamon leg.
 
Once the legs are properly cut, they are flattened and salted. These particular jamon legs will be salted for two weeks. Here is what they look like during the salt phase.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During the salting period water is extracted and the salt penetrates deeper into the jamon. After two weeks, the salt is rinsed and the legs are hung to rest for 3 months at about 41 degrees and 70-80% humidity. The legs are then  transferred to a room that is 45-48 degree farenheit with a humidity of 40-50%. This slightly warmer less dry environment causes the legs to sweat and extract more water from deeper in the leg. Finally the legs are matured and aged at 55 degrees for 18-24 months. 

The leg that you see here has been aged for 48 months and was absolutely delicious, we're still working on it. This leg began the curing process in April 2007 and was cut  August of 2011. Normally legs are not stored this long but, when you start with 36 jamones, there's only so much of the good jamon that you can enjoy. Dennis, holding the leg surely enjoyed the jamon.   When the jamon is ready to served, it's cleaned of all the yellow rancid fat. Cutting down to the creamy white fat is desirable until you reach the burgundy colored jamon. The jamon is cut by hand into little bite size slices, the cut is somewhat rustic. Four years in the making and worth the wait! A word of caution, this post is not a recipe or intended as a  procedure to make your own jamon. There are many steps that I didn't talk about regarding sanitation, temperature control, humidity and air circulation. The whole process can be very detailed and some spoilage is expected. Out of 36 jamones, I lost two to bad mold and a spike in temperature during the curing process. The process was not difficult once basic safety procedures where put in place. Now I'm looking forward to the next batch in 24 months. Salud amigos!  

What is the “X” Factor in Paella?

Short answer is everything in moderation. What do I mean? To truely make a great paella, you have have to build flavor depth with each set of ingredients being used. Fresh is preferrable, homemade is richer than canned,  and a little know-how doesn't hurt either. You can make paella on just about any shallow pan but, a true paella pan, also called a paellera, performs best. Surface area versus depth is the key and keeping the rice at about 3/4 of an inch yields the best performance. We don't want to get into an explanation of heat distribution and thermal-dynamics but, let's just say that a large evenly heated surface area is your best friend while preparing paella. Flame heat needs to be constant, most paella burners are too sensitive and even the slightest breeze will affect how your paella cooks. Equipment is important. Later we'll discuss cooking paella over and open fire, could be lots of fun or a big disaster. A softrito is basically a concentrated sauce used to flavor the paella. Many cooks don't use a sofrito, personally I use it every time and am always looking to improve on it. I call my sofrito the secret sauce, we all need to have one. Later I will share my sofrito recipe but, for now let's just say that the sofrito adds unlike any other ingredient used in the paella. The sofrito will permeate the rice, seafood, and vegetables used. It will develop that basic flavor profile and set the tone; spicy, salty, savory or umami. Sofrito is your friend! Vino is good for drinking but, I use it quite extensively when I prepare paella. Mostly I like whites and any will do: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Grigio and even sparkling. I say that sofrito is half of the secret sauce and vino is the other half. Wine does a couple of things, it imparts a little tang to the paella  and the acid from the wine helps to cut the oil and grease from the various meats used. Not to mention that when I pour the wine into the pan, the resulting sizzle and steam is an olfactory symphony to the senses. Most people near enough get weak in the knees with the smells of onions, garlic, spices combined with wine, its to die for. Hence vino is good for cooking and drinking with paella. Take stock of this, I never use canned stock to prepare paella, it is way too salty and is void of real depth and flavor. Same for plain water on the flavor side. I start my stock with the basics: onions, garlic, celery, cilantro and saffron. I like putting the saffron in the stock because it has a better chance of stewing and releasing all its rich vibrant color over a longer period of time. On the protein side, I add chicken bones, fish parts and guess what? Pork trotters! Why? Because pork trotters are full of collagen and provide much structure and consistency, you can almost chew through the flavor imparted by the trotters. Little secret! I also add pineapple to the stock to add a little acid and sweetness from the natural sugars. Recipe will follow later. Almost little to no salt is used, that will come from other sources. Fat is good if used appropriately and sparingly. Since I cure my own jamon (Sonoma Serrano), I have access to beautifully marbled "lardo". For those of you not familiar with lardo, it is basically cured pork fat and can be eaten as, although it needs to be sliced very thin. In our case I add chunks of Sonoma Serrano Jamon to the onions and garlic as they saute. This step adds succulent flavor that permeates throughout and adds richness to the overall texture. So there you have it: paellera, sofrito, vino, stock and fat. The flavor base that supports the rice and all that succulent fresh seafood. Done right, the base will reach long and wide while rewarding you with a super flavorful paella. Checkout my basic recipe for additional details, Salud!