You know it’s the season of ham when you go to the supermarket and several stands from commercial makers have been set up. In our house, it doesn’t seem to be Christmas without a leg to carve for breakfast prior to the main event—the Christmas Media Noche—where another leg emerges just for the party.
But the ham exhibit at groceries pales in comparison to the Museo de Jamon in Madrid, Spain.
Imagine legs of ham decorating wall to wall and from ceiling to just above the windows. The feeling was like being in ham heaven. There was a bar where, even in the early morning hours, people were ordering drinks and presumably their favored jamon. One wall had open ham legs for slicing, different kinds, but we zeroed in on the jamon iberico de bellota, much more expensive but the best of the lot. It’s made from a breed of black pigs that are free range, feeding on a natural diet of grass, shrubs and acorns when in season.
Crazy but Excellente
The craziest ham scene in Manila during the Christmas season should be at the Excellente shop in Carriedo (now Carlos Palanca Street) in Quiapo. Imagine going there on the day before Christmas to get a leg which I did. When the cooked hams were brought out, there was almost a riot as hands grabbed pieces, not according to weight but what was nearest. Peace on earth and goodwill to men just went out the window that day.
“Ham: An Obsession with the Hindquarter” (Stewart Tabori & Chang, New York) is a book that I just had to get. I read the review in “Spain Gourmetour,” the magazine of food, wine and travel of the Spanish trade office, and it said the authors, Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, “travelled far and wide” including Spain and the Philippines. So, of course, I was curious about what they discovered here. When I saw the book at National Book Store, I just had to buy it. I then scanned the pages quickly.
It took a while to find whatever it was they discovered here. It had nothing to do with the different hams produced in places like Excellente or Majestic or the exception pineapple-flavored hams of Bukidnon and Cagayan de Oro. It was just a recipe in the “Asian Connection” chapter.
The authors, however, wrote how the “Filipino Twice-Cooked Pork” was a “showstopper,” adobo of ham pieces that is fried after. Because my family doesn’t do ham adobo, I found that strange as well as the fact that it had kaffir lime leaves as one of the ingredients. Good thing the authors are great writers and their story about producing their own hams made the book worth buying.
For visiting chef Adrian Richardson, doing his own butchery of meat has defined his own style of cooking at his restaurant, La Luna Bistro in Melbourne, Australia. At any one time, he said he has several sides of beef hanging while dry-aging at his own cold storage. He loves to use less expensive cuts such as the blade roast taken from the chuck cut at the shoulder.
Chef Richardson was here to promote his show on the Asian Food Channel, “Good Chef Bad Chef,” where he pitted his wits with co-host, nutritionist Janella Purcell. I’m guessing that it presents the seeming conflict between healthy and good but not-so-healthy eating. Richardson hosted “Secret Meat Business” for the same channel.
If you look at the chef’s background, you’d be surprised that he grew up in a vegetarian family and now he eats and serves meat. He said that his grandmother, his nonna, introduced him to the goodness of meat and he hasn’t looked back. For his demo held at Greenbelt in Makati, he did his nonna’s potato gnocchi.
As I write this, I’m watching Oprah and her staff experiment with vegan eating. I think the most important lesson from that exercise is about not eating meat but knowing where your food comes from and how it was processed.
In his new book “The Good Life,” Richardson says the same thing: “I want my children to understand that carrots grow in the ground; to know that bacon comes from pig, not a packet; that the pasta al forno they love so much has been lovingly cooked by me or their mum.”
This Christmas Eve, my kitchen will be busy preparing for my family’s reunion. It is my way of replicating for my children, grandchildren and siblings the same air of excitement I felt in the whirlwind of activity at my lola’s house as she prepared the feast from scratch. A Merry Christmas to all!