The Fanciest of Fancy Ham — Jamon Iberico at Julian Serrano

While I do love all vari­eties of cured pork shank, there’s one in par­tic­u­lar that has a spe­cial place in my heart (and also some vital real estate in my arter­ies). I am speak­ing to the illus­tri­ous jamon Iberico.

Not really a leg to stand on, so it comes with its own stand.

The pure­bred Ibre­ico pigs from where we get this lovely spec­i­men reside in an oak for­est in Spain, where they live out their days munch­ing on black acorns and pre­sum­ably what­ever else is lying around. The pigs are such vora­cious eaters of the black acorns, capa­ble of eat­ing 20 lbs. of acorns a day, that only one pig is allowed per hectare (i had to look it up: 2.5 acres). It’s the only species that can eat so many, which of course leads to our love of their legs. And bel­lies. And jowls. Inter­est­ing fact: the pigs’ diet of black acorns makes the fat of the Iberico is more like the olive oil than sat­u­rated fat… so it’s health­ier? What­ever. I’ll take it.

Julian Ser­rano at Aria, which is the only spot in town that has legit tapas and paella, began offer­ing the pata negra a few weeks ago. Before they offered the jamon Ser­rano (i’m assum­ing no rela­tion), but get­ting the Iberico in is some­thing else. I believe the only other restau­rant in Las Vegas that offers it, that slices it right off the leg and on to a plate might be L’atelier de Joel Robu­chon at MGM Grand. (I’m also assum­ing this because the mas­ter culi­nary importer that is Arti­sanal Foods brings it in for both.)

As Julian Ser­rano is a pre­miere Span­ish restau­rant get­ting a pre­miere Span­ish prod­uct, there was of course much fan­fare. Ok, it was some other food jour­nal­ists and me on a Fri­day after­noon drink­ing wine and eat­ing ham. But first, the demonstration!

Easy… easy…

So while the jamonero is a guy that raises the pigs, dis­patches, cures and can slice the ham prop­erly, this guy (above) is known as el Cor­ta­dor. His job is to go around slice jamon Iberico prop­erly. That’s right. He trav­els around the world, teach­ing oth­ers to slice ham.

But it’s not all for show: this ham is so rich and beau­ti­fully mar­bled, with rib­bons of white cut­ting through, you can’t just hack away at the shank like you would a Christ­mas ham. It takes a sharp knife, some patience and finesse to shave away the crim­son slices of jamon that are only are only a few mil­lime­ters thick. Though safety sense might tell you to cut away from your body, the proper way to slice it is with the knife blade com­ing towards you. Appar­ently many who were not instructed in proper tech­nique have done some major dam­age, sev­er­ing ten­dons in the hand from slip­ping while cut­ting. Et voila!


Mono­grammed ham

When the ham is sliced paper thin, it melts in your mouth, earthy and nutty. Chef Julian served plat­ter after plat­ter with some cros­tini and a bit of crushed tomato salsa, for some acid­ity to cut into the fat. That’s all that you really need.

Julian Ser­rano at Aria

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