Miss Piggy

For some time, I’ve teased myself with the prospect of buying one of those whole cured legs of serrano or prosciutto ham. You know the ones. We see them hanging in the chilled section of all the supermarkets in France and sometimes here, usually in little independent deli type shops. I don’t know about you, but during the summer we buy packs of ‘continental’ meats every week. We love to serve them on big platters with green salad, roasted peppers and tomatoes – perfect for lunch in the sunshine.

So when I saw a whole leg of serrano ham on offer in one of our local cut-price supermarkets, it didn’t take me long to convince myself that this was a bargain not to be missed. I was actually on my morning canal-side walk which takes me past the supermarket and popped in on spec. I spotted a poster advertising the ham but couldn’t see one on the shelves so I asked the teller and he said “Oh no, we don’t have them on show. They’re out back”. I paid for it and he went off to get it. When he reappeared, he was carrying a huge cardboard box. How big was this pig? I thought it was just a big box but no, it was very heavy. I should have guessed it would be from the description of the ham on the poster – 6-7kg. Slight problem. No way could I carry that for the four mile walk back home. I trekked off to retrieve our car and then drove back to pick it up about an hour later. I opened the box and the ham inside was indeed huge.
Ham in the box 2
My husband was bemused. He had readily agreed that it was an offer not to be missed and he loves serrano ham, but he immediately spotted a few flaws in the plan. For one thing, we have a very small galley kitchen with almost no worktop space. We don’t have a stand for the ham. We don’t have a meat slicer. “Not to worry” he said “we can use the old electric carving knife and put the ham on a big plate.” This proved to be easier said than done, so after cutting a little portion, we oiled the cut bit (as advised in the inevitable Google search), covered it in cling film, put it aside and repaired to the pub.

The Wheatsheaf has a sophisticated clientele so we were soon the recipients of a raft of helpful advice on how to cope with our bargain. “You should get one of those stands especially made for cured hams.” “Invest in a proper meat slicer, you’ll never get those thin slices with an ordinary knife”. Back to Google search. It looks as though Spanish ham stands are around £80, Meat Slicers vary between £40 and £3,234! So we sharpened the old electric carving knife and tried again. We cut another little portion, oiled the cut bit, covered it in cling film – and had pasta for supper.

The ham languished variously on worktops in the kitchen and in the dining room while we pondered what to do. Should we take it to the local butcher or to the Wheatsheaf and ask for help to slice the bloody thing? Or continue to faff about cutting little bits? The whole idea is that you hang it in the kitchen and cut slices whenever the fancy takes you. But quite apart from storage, the kitchen is very warm at the moment. Would it go off? By now I really didn’t fancy eating it at all (but don’t tell anyone). Back, yet again, to Google to check out storage and some sort of ‘use by’ advice.

After about 10 days, we decided to cut it all up, freeze some (the Google search said to make sure that the freezer bags were absolutely airtight and it would be OK) and keep some in sealed bags in the fridge. Apparently you just need to bring it to room temperature before serving and all will be well. It seems that once the ham is off the bone, it stops curing and could go off quite quickly but by now we were running out of patience.

It took us two hours to manhandle and strip the ham (almost) to the bone. To my absolute horror, when we took the plastic sleeve off the end of the leg, there was the pig’s trotter. Quite a dainty one considering the size of the leg. How awful. I thought that it must have been a really fat pig but now I imagined it wobbling around on little feet, like Miss Piggy. Oh dear.

Well, it was done now. Wrapping up the chunks of ham is one thing, but how on earth do you wrap up the bone to dispose of it? By the time we had it wrapped in two or three black bin bags, it looked as though it could be a piece of dismembered body. The following day was our refuse collection day, so I lurked around until they arrived so I could explain. “The funny shaped bag is a big ham bone”, I told the guy who picked up our bags. “Honest”. “Bloody big ham”, was all he said as he tossed it into the back of the truck. Indeed.

Never again. In future I will stick to those little vacuum packs of about 6 slices at a time. Or I may become vegetarian.