Iberico ham is a mouth-wateringly delicious cured Spanish ham known for its nutty flavour and creamy stripes of fat that run through it. It’s one of our specialties here at Basco and a real treat that’s best enjoyed with friends over a good glass of wine!
Iberico ham is traditionally sourced from black Iberian pigs native to the sunny Iberian Peninsula. They’re reared in large areas of woodland, known locally as ‘dehesas’, to give them plenty of space to roam around. Iberian pigs’ typical diet of acorns and grass is what gives their meat such a succulent flavour and its unique marbling effect.
Here at Basco, we source our Iberico ham legs from artisan ham and charcuterie specialist Montanegra who breed their pigs in Extremadura, a region in southern Spain that’s famously known for being the home of Iberico ham. Montanegra are considered to be one of the best Iberico product retailers in Spain thanks to their incredible experience and expertise that spans over 70 years and several generations. As well as breeding 75% of their pigs themselves, they also dry the hams at their base in Badajoz in the heart of Extremadura.
Iberico ham is traditionally served thinly sliced on a plate with a beautiful glass of rioja but it’s use in the kitchen has endless options, lifting any ingredient or dish to another level. Serve it with scrambled, poached or fried eggs, with pasta or risotto dishes, with grilled vegetables, sprinkled on cold or hot soups, wrapped round some scallops or as a garnish to any type of meat. You can also use its beautiful fat to flavour oils, butters, make dressings or cook roast potatoes and chips. To help you out with preparing and presenting this delicious meat, so you can make the most of its tantalising taste, we’ve put together an expert step by step guide on how to cut Iberico ham so it’s the ideal thickness and size for easy serving.
Step One: Place your Iberico ham leg on a stand ready for carving
Before you start carving your Spanish jamon, you’ll need to make sure you have all the right equipment including a ham stand. You should then fit the ham leg on the stand, making sure it’s securely fastened, and place a damp cloth underneath it to keep it steady.
Step Two: Select the right knifes for carving
Once it’s secure in its Jamón stand, it’s time to select which knifes you’ll need to carve your meat. There are three types you should ideally have: a cook’s knife for making the deep cut around the ham shank, a boning knife with a small but rigid blade for peeling off the hard ham skin, and a long but flexible ham slicing knife to shave those beautiful thin slices of Jamón Ibérico. Make sure all knives are clean and sharp before you start opening and carving the ham.
Step Three: Remove the skin off your Iberico ham leg
Before you can carve your Spanish Jamón properly, you’ll need to remove the outer skin using a boning knife. To make this step easier, start by making a vertical cut with your cook’s knife round the shank of the ham (5). This cut will then be used as a starting point from where you will start slicing on both the maza (A) and contramaza (B) sides. Once the vertical cut has been made you can start peeling the ham. Peeling consists on the removal of the hard skin that wraps the ham fat developed during the natural process of drying and curing. To begin to remove the outer layer of skin, use your boning knife to mark a small incision all-round the area you are going to peel and slowly start to trim the hard skin off. Peel the whole leg if it will be eaten quickly, or peel one section at a time if you are going to eat your ham in stages. The usual order is first the maza (A) and punta (C) and then the contramaza (B).
Step Four: Cut off the outer layer of fat
The next thing you’ll need to do is remove the layer of fatty meat immediately under the skin of your Spanish Jamón. Using your long flexible knife, start at the vertical cut nearest the shank and horizontally slice the outer fat from the centre and sides of the leg. Make sure you set aside some of the fat layers to use later to cover any ham that’s not being carved.
Step Five: Slice your ham in thin strips
Now you’ve prepared your Iberico ham leg, you can start to slice it in thin, nearly transparent, even strips using your ham slicing knife. Ensure each slice is carved in the same direction and use your free hand or a pair of tongs to hold the slices as they begin to lift away from the leg.
The slices will always be parallel between each other, following the lines marked with arrows in Figure A, B and C. The slices need to be very thin, nearly transparent, reaching the width of the ham piece and reaching 2.5 inches. When slicing from the maza section, we recommend that in each portion you combine slices from the shank (D), central part (A) and from the point end (C). Once you have taken a few layers from the maza section, the coxal bone (6) will start to stick out. All you need to do, is cut round it with your boning knife to loosen the coxal bone up.
You can then present your Iberico ham slices on a plate or platter, placing them in single layers that overlap slightly.
Step Six: Allow your Iberico ham slices to rest at room temperature
Just like you leave a good bottle of red wine to breathe before drinking it, you should leave your Iberico ham slices to settle in a room that’s around 20°C before serving. This not only allows the natural oleic acids in the meat to soften it but will also help intensify the flavours, so they become richer and more aromatic. If the room is not quite warm enough, a good tip is to serve it on warmed plates instead.
Step Seven: Place your saved fat layers back over the meat to preserve it
If you’re not cutting your entire Jamón Ibérico up in one go, you’ll want to ensure it doesn’t dry out. You can do this by placing the fat layers you saved back over the meat, ensuring none of it is exposed to the air, and then wrapping the whole leg in a muslin cloth. It should then be stored in a cool, dry and well ventilated place that’s ideally room temperature. How long an Iberico ham lasts will depend on how well you cover it and where you store it, but its high fat content should keep it preserved and ready to eat for weeks after it’s been cut.
While Iberico ham is wonderful to eat on its own, there are several traditional and tasty ways to serve it up. Why not try it with some lightly toasted bread, rubbed with some ripe plum tomatoes and drizzled with our single press heroina extra virgin olive oil? Pairing Spanish Jamón with a classic rioja like our Marques de Murrieta Reserva is truly a match made in heaven, however it also goes beautifully with a white wine like our creamy Enate Barrel Aged Chardonnay.
For more delectable inspiration, take a look at your Iberico ham recipes ideas on our Spanish recipes page.