the appetizer:

Ham: An Obsession with the Hindquarter by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, includes recipes and articles like Shirred Eggs in Prosciutto Crudo Cups; Jerk-Style Country Ham and Pineapple Tamales; Europe On A Plate (European Dry-Cured Hams); and A European Ham Party.

Cookbook Profile

A European Ham Party

by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough

Makes 1 Great Evening

Have the butcher cut the ham into paper-thin slices, placing them between layered sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap so they stay fresh. Once home, store the sealed packet in the refrigerator, because the meat's cut cellular layers can now invite airborne bacterial colonization. Since any dry-cured European ham tastes best at room temperature, leave the sealed packet out on your counter for perhaps 30 minutes before the party starts. Unwrap the slices only when you're ready to put them on a platter, preferably furled or delicately crimped so they're easier to pick up and stay moister than when prone. Consider holding back half the slices, still sealed in the packet, until the party really gets rolling.

Or go whole hog. That is, buy a whole dry-cured European ham, the full leg, sometimes with the toe (or hoof) still attached. You'll most likely have to special order the joint, so plan on at least a week's notice for your butcher or market. Also you can check out various online meat suppliers like or

If you've gone this far, you'll also want a special ham rack for presentation: a wooden plank with a metal, viselike scaffolding to hold the leg in place at the proper carving angle. Screw the toe end of the ham into the vice on the scaffolding so that the meat sits with one thinner side pointing up. Use a long, thin, sharp carving knife to slice off a thin piece of ham along the uppermost surface plane—then take off several more slices of mostly fat to get down to the rich meat underneath. (Don't discard those fat slices; save them back in the freezer to be cubed and used in stews or braises in place of bacon.) Only remove the fat from the area you intend to carve; that fat is what seals and protects the meat.

Eventually, you'll make paper-thin, U-shaped cuts along the top plane of the meat, shaving off slices to stack on a nearby plate. Don't go nuts and carve too much—just a few slices at a time will keep the party going. And don't turn the ham over until you've carved all of one side; the other side should stay intact so the meat stays moist. And remember: the better the ham, the smaller the slice. Fine jamón ibérico should be sliced into paper-thin, two-inch bits, like squat rectangles; each piece should just fit onto your tongue so that you can feel the fat melt before you begin to chew. If you'd like to see a video detailing the proper carving technique, check out the one posted on our blog,

OK, so you've got the ham, sliced or whole. What else do you need in order to make the party a success? Here are some suggestions:


Party Checklist


Make this pitcher punch by first bringing 1/2 cup water; 1/3 cup granulated sugar; 1 medium seedless orange, cut into eighths; 1 medium lemon, thinly sliced; and a cinnamon stick to a simmer in a medium pan over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Once the mixture is at a boil, take the pan off the heat and cool to room temperature, about 2 hours. Pour the contents into a large pitcher and stir in one 750 milliliter bottle of red wine and 1/3 cup orange juice. Also stir in some pitted Bing cherries; halved, seedless grapes; and perhaps some cubed fresh pineapple—a total of 1-1/2 to 2 cups fruit. Chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour, then serve over ice.

Ginger Pear Cosmos

The ginger in this sweet drink matches perfectly with the cured meat. Stir 3 cups pear nectar; 2 cups vodka; 1 cup Cointreau (an orange-flavored liqueur); 2/3 cup lime juice; 2 tablespoons granulated sugar; and 2 tablespoons ginger juice in a large pitcher. Add ice to the pitcher—but serve the punch in glasses also filled with ice.

Pomegranate Caipirinha

To turn this on-the-rocks drink into a pitcher punch, put 1/2 cup granulated sugar (preferably super-fine bar sugar) and 12 small limes, cut into eighths, in a large pitcher. Muddle the limes and sugar by pressing them together with a muddler or the back of a wooden spoon until the sugar has dissolved and the limes are crushed. Stir in 3 cups cachaça (Brazilian sugar-cane rum) and 2 cups unsweetened pomegranate juice. Add ice to the pitcher, but serve the drink in glasses also filled with ice (and, if desired, garnished with mint leaves).

Peppery Caponata

This Sicilian condiment—resembling a thick dip—is made from eggplant bits in a spicy tomato sauce with capers and olives in the mix. It's available jarred at most supermarkets and all Italian delis. But here's an easy version that adds some roasted red peppers to the mix for a little more zip. Cook and stir a cubed (not peeled) 1-1/2 pound eggplant, 1 chopped medium yellow onion, and 3 minced medium garlic cloves with 1/4 cup olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until the eggplant and onion turn golden brown, about 8 minutes. Stir in 1-3/4 cups canned diced tomatoes; 2 diced, jarred, roasted red peppers or pimentos; 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar; 1/4 cup chopped basil leaves; 2 teaspoons minced oregano leaves; 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon; and 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and continue cooking, stirring often, until the tomatoes break down into a sauce and the eggplant is very tender, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and ground black pepper to taste. Serve warm; or chill, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.


Look for this olive paste at the deli counter, on the salad bar, or jarred and sold near the olives in your market. If you want to make your own, whir about 2 cups pitted cured black olives, 1/4 cup olive oil, a few drained capers, a small quartered garlic clove, a teaspoon or two of lemon juice, and a few grinds of black pepper in a food processor just until the mixture becomes a coarse, grainy paste. (The more traditional method involves rocking a chef's knife endlessly through these ingredients on a cutting board to produce similar results—slightly more toothsome but definitely more labor-intensive.)

Fig Ginger Jam

Mix 7 chopped and stemmed large fresh figs, 1-1/4 cups sugar, 2-1/2 tablespoons water, 2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger, 1-1/2 tablespoons lemon juice, and a pinch of salt in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the mixture comes to a simmer, then reduce the heat a bit and continue cooking, stirring often, until thick and jamlike, about 12 minutes. Pour this mixture into a glass jar or plastic container and refrigerate for at least 24 hours, or up to 2 weeks.

Pickled Cippolini

Cippolini onions are notoriously sweet little flattened disks that are often roasted with olive oil. For a ham spread, it may be more satisfying to offer them as pickles, like the Sephardic ones served at Passover. Fill two quart-sized, heat-safe jars with peeled small cippolinis. (The easiest way to peel them is to drop them in boiling water for 30 seconds, drain, and then pinch the onions out of their skins.) Add a peeled garlic clove and a bay leaf to each jar. Then bring 3 cups water, 3 cups white wine vinegar, 1/4 cup sugar, and 5 teaspoons salt to a boil in a large saucepan, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Set off the heat for 1 minute, then pour this liquid into the jars, covering the onions. Seal the jars and refrigerate for at least 48 hours, or up to 2 weeks.

Cranberry-Walnut Pesto

Although any pesto will do, we prefer one that errs on the side of a little sweetness. For this version, soften 1/4 cup dried cranberries in very hot water for 3 minutes. Drain, then add them to a large food processor fitted with the chopping blade, along with 2 cups packed basil leaves, 1/2 cup walnut pieces, 1/4 cup walnut or olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper. Process until a smooth, thick paste. If you find the mixture is just too thick, you can drizzle some water into the processor and keep working it until you get a spreadable consistency. Serve at once, or place in a medium container, pour a thin coat of olive oil on top to keep the basil from browning, and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.


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Ham: An Obsession with the Hindquarter

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This page created April 2010