Hamming it Up
Jim Poris / September 2009
There's no cure for fresh ham fever, as three chefs find out when they take on the challenge of cooking with this large piece of pork. Jim Poris finds out what they come up with.
Nose to tail, eh? Then why is it in these pig-happy days, when every swashbuckling chef's YouTube moment depicts him scabbarding his way through the beast's topography, does fresh ham--that big butt portion--so rarely appear on menus? Traditionally boned and stuffed à la turkey for holidays, fresh ham is most often turned into, well, ham. No need to count the ways, from Tennessee to Parma. But using the fresh ham whole or in part should be reconsidered, even for novelty's sake, now that every other part of the pig is in vogue.
Thankfully, three chefs--Josh Adams of June Restaurant in Peoria Illinois, William Bradley of Addison Restaurant in The Grand Del Mar in San Diego, and John Fraser of Dovetail in New York City--agreed to work out a dish with a product they rarely use. To do that, they had to abide by the rule to use 21 of the Mystery Basket's list of ingredients--yes, the dreaded list, no ifs, ands, but in this case, a butt: whole bone-in fresh ham, salt and pepper, garlic, cipollini, white wine, cannellini beans, whole milk, oranges, carrots with tops on, broccoli raab, cremini mushrooms, mortadella, honey, olive oil, leeks, wild rice, red hot sauce, all-purpose flour, fig balsamic vinegar, eggs, raisins, and celery. The also had to include any five of the following: bay leaves, mint, marjoram, cilantro, saffron, rosemary, thyme, sage, mustard seeds, juniper berries, parsley, tarragon, basil, hot or sweet paprika, coriander seeds, cloves, nutmeg, and savory.
New York City
"Seems that the folks at Food Arts are huge fans of putting chefs in precarious positions and watching them squirm. And squirm I did. With the obvious ingredients of eggs and flour on the list, I figured I was being baited into making pasta. Thinking that a really great Italian chef would be included in this piece, I didn't take the bait to make me look bad. In order to avoid comparisons, I decided to do something that no one else would. Dovetail's menu is driven by seasonality, and most importantly, the weather. We didn't have a cold soup on the menu until May this year because it was such a cool spring in New York. With my magical crystal ball, I'm predicting that summer's warmth will last well into November. With that in mind, what's better on summer day than a cold terrine. So here you go: a terrine of ham with condiments aplenty. Happy eating."
Composed salad of pork rillettes with mortadella, fresh ricotta, saffron/carrot coleslaw, country bean salad & tempura fried broccoli raab. "Bone a fresh ham and cut it into large chunks. Cut two carrots, two leeks, and two celery stalks into brunoise; sweat them in olive oil until softened; reserve in the refrigerator. Put the pieces of fresh ham fat in a large braising pan; add six juniper berries and four cloves to the bottom of the pan; add the chunks of fresh ham, the bone, and any cartilage; add two cups cold water; cover tightly with aluminum foil; place in 250 degree oven; cook, undisturbed, until the fat renders and the meat can be easily shredded (don't allow the pan go dry; add a half cup water, as needed, now and then). Remove from the oven; pour contents into a large china cap set over a bowl; discard rind, bone, cartilage, and any other debris. Using two forks, pull apart and shred the meat; place in a rectangular dish; add enough of the strained fat to create a creamy paste; season with salt and pepper; fold in the sweated mirepoix; smooth the top of the mixture; top with extra fat to create a seal that will prevent spoilage.
"Soak one cup cannellini beans overnight, then drain and rinse. Place beans in a pot with mirepoix of carrot, celery, leek, and garlic; add three thyme sprigs; cover with water; bring to a boil; skim; reduce heat to medium-low; cook until the beans are soft [about 2 hours]; season with salt; cool in the cooking liquid. Quarter two cups cremini; heat olive oil in an iron skillet; add cremini; cook until caramelized; remove from heat; reserve. Slice cipollini as thinly as possible on a mandoline and rinse them under hot water for four minutes. In a bowl combine three cups drained beans, sliced cipollini, cooked mushrooms, raisins, and three tablespoons fig balsamic vinegar with six tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil; season with salt and pepper.
"To make the ricotta: heat one pint whole milk in nonreactive saucepan set over low heat until it reaches 200 degrees; add one tablespoon orange juice; heat for five minutes; season with salt; drain contents into a colander lined with cheesecloth while still warm; tie up ends of the cheesecloth; let hang for at least three hours. Make very thin slices of mortadella on a meat slicer; place on work surface; spread ricotta on each slice; roll into pinwheels; reserve several hours in the refrigerator.
"Slice three peeled carrots on a mandoline as thinly as possible; add two tablespoons salt; let sit at room temperature one hour, during which time the carrots will leach their water, intensifying their flavor and altering their texture; squeeze dry with paper towels. Bring white wine and raisins to a boil; remove from heat; cool to room temperature. Reduce the juice of two oranges to a syrup; add 10 saffron threads; cool to room temperature. In a bowl mix the syrup, orange suprêmes, the drained raisins, and carrots; fold in one tablespoon chopped cilantro; finish with a dash of extra-virgin olive oil.
"Remove the large leaves from 12 stalks of broccoli raab. Dip the florets attached to the stalk in tempura batter (one cup flour, one cup soda water, and one egg yolk, plus salt); fry in olive oil until crispy; remove with a spider; place on paper towels to drain; season with salt. Repeat the process for the broccoli raab leaves. To serve, cut a two-inch square of the pork rillettes; place it on the left side of a plate; surround it with cannellini/cremini salad; on the other side of the plate place three pieces of the mortadella/ricotta pinwheels sliced into one-inch rounds; top these with a dot of honey; garnish the mortadella with the carrot-saffron salad, laying it sparingly around, as its flavor is strong; in the center of the plate, place the tempura broccoli raab and its fried leaves; drizzle extra-virgin olive oil over all three garnishes; pour a Gianfranco Alessandria Barbera d'Alba 2007 to wash this all down."
Peoria Heights, Illinois
"After going through the list of ingredients in my Mystery Basket, I was glad to see fresh ham as the main ingredient and that I had worked with every other item on the list in some fashion or other. But where to begin?
"A great thing about fresh ham is that you can give it a salty-sweet flavor from a brine and then make it resonate by smoking it. The list provides ingredients to make a great brine, but without fruitwood, I couldn't get the smoky essence I'd like. So, I was stumped. The next day, we received some rosemary with very large branches from one of our local farmers. Immediately, I thought we could burn the rosemary branches and use this to smoke the ham. However, it ended up taking a lot of the rosemary branches to get any decent smoke, and it really didn't get hot enough to smoke a whole ham. This would have been one expensive ham if I had followed that route.
"So back to the list for another consideration. That's when the cremini jumped out. We currently do coffee-smoked shiitake mushrooms and we've found that they are able to hold a lot of smoky flavor. So I settled on rosemary-smoked cremini. As for the cannellini beans, I've found that cooking them in a pressure cooker accentuates their flavor; pureeing them adds nice texture to the dish. Next, some sous-vide cipollini and leeks for the onion component and, finally, a raisin puree to add a little fruity sweetness. And that's how it all came together."
Ham with cannellini bean puree, rosemary-smoked cremini, leeks, cipollini & sage-scented ham jus. "Heat four gallons water, four cups salt, two cups honey, two tablespoons coriander seeds, three tablespoons crushed juniper berries, one tablespoon cloves, and four halved oranges in a nonreactive pot until honey dissolves; remove from heat; cool to room temperature. Remove the skin from the fresh ham; clean the skin; reserve. Submerge the ham in the brine for 10 days. Remove the ham from the brine; rinse; let it dry in the walk-in for 24 hours. Bone the ham; reserve the bone for the stock. Cut the ham into half-inch thick rectangular slices measuring six by four inches, reserving any scraps for the stock. Thinly slice the mortadella to the same dimensions on a meat slicer; sandwich each slice of mortadella with two slices of ham; top with a slice of skin cut to the same dimensions; place each ‘sandwich' in its own vacuum sealable plastic food bag; vacuum on highest setting; cook sous-vide in 142 degree water for two hours; remove from the water; let rest 10 minutes; remove from the bag; reserve.
"Heat two tablespoons olive oil in a pot set over medium-high heat; add ham bone and ham scraps; cook until browned; remove ham bone and scraps; add four cups diced cipollini, two cups celery, 2 cups diced carrots, one-half cup diced leeks, and four crushed garlic cloves; cook until translucent; add ham bone and scraps back to the pot; add two gallons water; simmer for two hours; strain; season with salt; reserve stock; discard solids.
"Sweat two cups diced cipollini, one cup carrots, and one cup diced celery in olive oil in a pan set over medium-high heat; add two cups white wine; reduce until almost dry; add one gallon ham stock and one large bunch sage; reduce by one-third; strain through fine chinois; reserve.
"Cover one cup raisins with boiling water; cover with a lid; soak for 15 minutes to rehydrate; strain; reserve raisins and liquid separately; place raisins in a blender; blend, adding enough reserved liquid to make a smooth puree; press through a fine mesh strainer; reserve.
"Peel two cups cipollini; place cipollini, two tablespoons salt, and two tablespoons fig balsamic vinegar in vacuum sealable plastic food bags; vacuum on highest setting, cook sous-vide in 185 degree water for 50 minutes; remove cipollini from the bag; cut in half; heat one tablespoon olive oil in a skillet set over medium-high heat; caramelize cipollini cut side down; remove from the skillet; reserve. Trim the bottom of the leeks; rinse leeks to remove any dirt; cut into one-inch cylinders to make two cups in all; place leeks, two tablespoons olive oil, and two teaspoons salt in vacuum sealable plastic food bags; vacuum on highest setting; blanch in boiling water; shock in ice water bath; remove leeks from the bag; pat dry; heat two tablespoons olive oil in a skillet set over medium-high heat; cook leeks on each cut side until lightly golden; remove from the skillet; reserve.
"Cut two cups cremini into one-eighth inch slices; fill the bottom of a stovetop smoker with half pound of rosemary branches; add cremini; smoke one hour; remove cremini; season with salt; reserve. Soak two cups cannellini beans in water overnight; drain; add beans, water to cover, a sachet filled with one cup diced carrots, two cups diced cipollini, one cup diced celery, and one bunch sage to a pressure cooker; fasten the lid; set to 10 pounds of pressure; bring to a simmer over medium-high heat; reduce heat to low; cook 60 minutes; remove from heat; release pressure; remove the sachet; strain beans. Place in a blender; blend at high speed while gradually adding enough milk to make a smooth puree; pass through a tamis; season; reserve.
"Cut ham ‘sandwiches' into one-inch wide strips; heat two tablespoons olive oil in a frying pan set over medium-high heat; sear ham skin side down until crisped; remove from the pan; reserve. To plate, spoon a small pool of cannellini bean puree into the center of a plate; top with ham; spoon some of the sage scented ham jus onto the ham; alternate cipollini, leeks, and smoked cremini in single file row, leaving enough space between each element for a dot of raisin puree. Pair with Pahlmeyer Chardonnay Napa Valley 2006."
Addison, The Grand Del Mar
"I felt challenged by the notion of combining ingredients selected by someone else and being ‘forced' to create a dish that is drastically different from my less-is-more approach to cooking. That being said, I wanted to come up with something harmonious that still could hold me to my mantra of simplicity. I admit that I was thrown offtrack by the ingredients. I mean, come on, I need to use at least 21 ingredients? And, are you kidding me, who still cooks with wild rice? That went out in the '90s, didn't it? The more I thought about what was handed to me the more I became inspired by the diversity of flavors I could come up with. And in the end, I did manage to keep it fairly simple. Finding flavor through simplicity, that's what drives me when I cook."
Herb roasted bone-in ham with saffron/orange glaze & condiments. "Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the fresh ham in large roasting pan; score ham's skin; season with salt, pepper, and two tablespoons toasted mustard seeds; roast for approximately 30 minutes per pound or until internal temperature reads 155 degrees on meat thermometer, basting every 20 minutes with drippings; when brown and crisped, remove from the oven; place on cutting board; sprinkle with a mixture of two tablespoons each of chopped tarragon, rosemary, thyme, and broccoli raab leaves; let rest 30 minutes. For the glaze, reduce four cups orange juice, one cup honey, two teaspoons saffron, and salt to a syrup; reserve.
"Now for the condiments. Heat three tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil in a large sauté pan set over medium-high heat; add 12 peeled cipollini; cook until browned on one side; flip; brown the other side; add quarter cup honey and one cup fig balsamic vinegar; reduce heat to low, stirring occasionally, until cipollini are caramelized, about 30 minutes; reserve. Bring one quart milk, eight medium peeled and diced carrots, two stalks diced celery, one cup red raisins, and salt and pepper to a boil in a large pot; reduce heat to low; simmer until carrots are fork tender; strain mixture over bowl to separate solids from liquids; reserve separately. Place cooking liquid in saucepan set over medium-high heat; whisk in two tablespoons all-purpose flour; remove from heat. Place vegetable/raisin mixture, one cup thickened cooking liquid, and one egg in a blender; blend into a smooth puree; season with salt and pepper; reserve.
"Heat oven to 350 degrees; heat olive oil in a small roasting pan set over medium-high heat; add eight peeled and quartered garlic cloves and three diced leeks, white part only; cook until translucent; add one cup cannellini beans that have been soaked 48 hours in water, one-half cup white wine, one cup bean soaking water, 20 quartered cremini caps, and one cup mortadella cut into one-inch cubes; cook in the oven for 30 minutes; remove from oven; season with salt and pepper; reserve.
"To serve, place all the condiments--the carrot/raisin puree, the cremini, and the cipollini--in serving dishes; slice the ham; overlap slices on a plate; spoon glaze over; serve condiments on the side. Jesse Rodriguez, Addison's nonpareil wine director, thinks Soter Vineyards Pinot Noir ‘Beacon Hill' Yamhill-Carlton District 2006 would match up well with this dish."