Gettin' Piggy With It: talking Ham Month with Erin O'Shea
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Gettin' Piggy With It: talking Ham Month with Erin O'Shea
|Photo l Kevin D. Weeks|
|Benton's American "prosciutto," center|
On Thursday and Friday nights throughout April, West Philly's Marigold Kitchen will offer a special $50, five-course tasting menu featuring artisanal American hams from Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. Meal Ticket sat down with executive chef Erin O'Shea for the inside track on these "American prosciuttos." Marigold Kitchen owner Steve Cook and general manager Maura Carney provided wine pairing recommendations for maximum ham happiness.
Meal Ticket: What was the inspiration for an all-ham menu?
Erin O'Shea: It started out as a "tasting of country hams" appetizer plate, from our a la carte menu. We thought, wouldn't it be fun to make a tasting menu based on that app? I tend to avoid themed menus, but I guess I don't avoid it if I love it.
MT: The timing is appropriate, too. Easter is coming up, and that's definitely the hammiest holiday.
EO: It is the hammiest holiday!ï¿½ I think it has something to do with the different breeds of pigs.ï¿½ Each has its own butcher time, depending on what you are doing with it.
MT: Do hams vary from producer to producer?
EO: Yes and no. Within each ham, you've got variation. On each leg, there will be a large variety of flavors and textures, based on how much meat there is on the bone. There's more meat at the upper thigh than at the shank, and the amount of fat changes ï¿½ one band of fat around the thigh is deep fat that sort of trickles down to a thinner band. The shank end, where the ham is hung to dry, is really tough, but the upper thigh is very tender. Each ham has a lot to offer. There's also different cures.
MT: Different producers cure and smoke their hams with different things?
EO: Yes, the very traditional cure is brown sugar and salt, but you can use other things to obtain different flavors.ï¿½ Most southern hams are smoked over hickory ï¿½ all of these that we are featuring are ï¿½ but we get one Yankee ham from up North that is smoked over corncobs. It gives it a very different flavor. Do you want to see a ham?
MT: Um, yeah.ï¿½ [Ed: Erin disappears into the walk-in at this point, and emerges seconds later holding a paper-and-cheesecloth wrapped ham like a baby.]
MT: Wow, it looks just like a prosciutto. I was expecting more like a no-water-added, pink thing like you get in the supermarket.
EO: This is the Benton's ham from Tennessee. It's rubbed with sugar and salt, allowed to sit for up to a year, then rinsed. They they hang and hickory-smoke it.
MT: Do these American hams contain nitrites?
EO: Nitrites have been demonized, but the thing is, you've got to use nitrites to comply with USDA regulations. In order not to use them, your ham has to be 10 percent salt, which makes the finished product way too salty. Most producers shoot for 5 to 6 percent salt. People will ask me, does this have nitrites in it, and I say, well, yes. They are necessary for preservation of a cured, raw product like this. [Ed: Click here for more information on nitrites in cured meats]
MT:ï¿½ I see you are making a ham vinaigrette for the farm vegetables course. How does one make a ham vinaigrette?
EO: We cook off the leg bone and some meat from the shank, including the meat that hung on the bone, and make a vinaigrette with it. It add as little smokiness, a little hamminess to this really beautiful local produce. We're pulling in the earliest regional stuff available, and those vegetables will change through April, as we can get more things.
MT: What wines would you recommend guests bring along to pair with the Ham Tasting?
Steven Cook: For something versatile that will work throughout the menu, you can't go wrong with a White Burgundy. They have a nice acidity and fruitiness that can stand up to things like the chicken. Macon-Villages are great with this and affordable. It sounds like a cliche, but Pinot Noir will work with the fish and meat ï¿½ a light to medium bodied red is really ideal, nothing with a lot of tannins.
Maura Carney: A Spanish wine like white Verdejo would be good as well, or Grenache if you must have a red.
MT: I'm glad you two can make recommendations. For ham, I'd just bring beer.
Erin O'Shea: [whispers] Me too.ï¿½ I don't know anything about wine.
Marigold Kitchen, 501 S. 45th St. 215-222-3699, marigoldkitchenbyob.com
Meal Ticket Tastes Three Country Hams, thinly sliced and in their "raw" state (first course of this menu)
Edward & Son's (Virginia): smoky, fruity, saline, peachy color, tons of character, silky fat, scotchy
Father's (Kentucky): smokier, more subtle flavor, less salt.ï¿½ Erin notes that "it's weird, but the texture is almost similar to fish" --there is a distinct melt-in-your-mouth quality, much like great sashimi.
Benton's (Tennessee): palest pink of the three, long finish,ï¿½ pure white fat has a very fruity, floral flavor, less smoky but the complex flavors linger -- "It'll stick with you," says Erin.
April is Ham Month at Marigold Kitchen
Tasting of Three Country Hams
Benton's (Tenn), Fathers' (Kentucky), Edward & Son's (Virginia)
with pear butter, whole grain mustard & marmalade
Local Farm Vegetables
with Virginia ham viniagrette
Benton's country ham broth, fava beans, poached egg
Stuffed Chicken Breast
Father's country ham, morel mushrooms, sugar snap peas
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