Ham: An Obsession with the Hindquarter
Finally, a cookbook with some pizazz! Ham: An Obsession with the Hindquarter was written by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, food lovers, life partners, and exactly the kind of people who could breathe life into the sometimes stale world of food writing.
The recipes featured in Ham are solid, easy to follow, and delicious, but I was pleasantly surprised by how witty and well-written the book was. Along with the recipes, readers are treated to informative pig/ham-related tidbits sprinkled throughout, testers’ notes for many of the recipes, and personal stories from the writers. It was this last bit that I was particularly fond of.
I’ve never laughed out loud reading a cookbook, but after following the couple’s attempt to make their own dry-cured ham at home I couldn’t help but chuckle at the absurdity of it. If it’s done incorrectly and consumed, it can result in “respiratory failure and paralysis,” but even when the ham is drying properly, it goes through a period where it is regularly “dripping ugly bits of mucousy sludge.” Obviously, dry curing your own ham isn’t a good idea, but checking out this cookbook is. Follow Weinstein and Scarbrough on their endearing journey as they reveal all you ever wanted to know–and in some cases, some things you didn’t want to know–about that porky, fatty thing people all over the world call ham.
I already know this is one of those cookbooks I will go back to time and time again for family get-togethers, dinner parties, and plain ol’ good eatin’. I’m not one to spend a tremendous amount of money on meat when grocery shopping, but I couldn’t have done this book justice without trying one of the duo’s recipes for fresh ham. Thankfully, the book appeared on my doorstep just around Easter, which provided good reason to schlep a massive ham home from the local Mexican market. Which, by the way, was the only non-Whole Foods-like market around to have fresh ham; different than the variety you see at grocery stores around April that are pre-cooked. The recipe called for a ten pounder, which would reportedly feed “six teenage boys, sixteen adults, or twenty-six ‘twentysomething’ models,” so I knew my bone-in twelve pounder would be enough for my voracious family.
The roasted fresh ham with a maple-spice glaze was ridiculously delicious and so unlike the bizarre, overly sweet orange juice-glazed and pineapple-ringed monstrosity I grew up eating when my grandpa did all of the holiday cooking. No, this was crispy-skinned, moist, and had the perfect amount of sweetness thanks to a sugar, cinnamon, allspice, clove, and nutmeg rub down and a good basting of Grade A maple syrup.
All of the other recipes I tested revolved around prosciutto, that salty, fatty, delicious Italian ham that Weinstein and Scarbrough managed to work into everything from pizza to quesadillas–and I loved it all. Some of my favorites were the pizza with dry-cured ham and artichokes. Stubborn as I am, I refused to use store-bought dough as the recipe called for, but I think the dish was better for it because good lord, everyone needs to eat a homemade pizza laced with fatty Italian ham and artichokes.
When testing recipes on my parents, as I often do, my mom would always complain that I never used enough meat; the woman loved her some meat. She seemed excited to hear that I was testing recipes from a book devoted to pork, one of her favorite animals (to eat). One of the last meals I ever cooked for my mom before she died unexpectedly in early May was Ham's recipe for chive and cheddar ham biscuits with honey mustard. I threw some cheese on her biscuit for good measure because if there’s anything she loved more than meat, it was cheese. Needless to say she loved it and I love that a silly cookbook provided one of our last moments together as mother and daughter. Life–and food–is funny like that sometimes.