As you may be aware, last spring I spent a glorious week in Burgundy, tasting a crillion wines, and…just as important…looking for evidence in Burgundy’s restaurants and charcuteries/épiceries that traditional Burgundy food still exists. (Yeah, it’s a lot of frou-frou creative in the region today, just like everywhere else!)
One dish that will probably never go away has always been, happily, among my favorite dishes of the region: jambon persillé, usually translated as “parslied ham,” or “ham in parsley aspic.” I suppose it is the heavy intrusion of an herb (albeit a non-shock-wave herb) into a rich, old-fashioned meat terrine that makes the dish so damned appealing to so many people.
I have published a few jambon persillé recipes over the years, and have always been pretty happy with the results. However, I picked up some new ideas on my spring trip, played around with them tentatively in my kitchen in late May, suspended the project until the colder weather returns—and am planning a full-on assault in fall 2012. I expect, hubristically, to come up with the best damned jambon persillé EVER!…and will be including the recipe in the relaunch of my newsletter, coming in January 2013.
For now, I’m going to give you some notes on the things I think are really important in shopping for, and making, a beautiful jambon persillé. Play along with me!
You want a big piece of ham (8 lbs. or so), preferably bone-in, with skin on top and lots of visible fat. It should be a mild-cured ham, smoked…but only lightly smoked. You DO NOT WANT some industrialized ham all regularized, and gussied up for holiday sales with a glaze, cloves, etc. The ham should be as much like natural pork as possible…with a little pink from the curing. Think rough and rustic, not prettified. I always go to a Ukrainian butcher in Manhattan to get my ham.
COOKING THE HAM
Though your cured ham is ready to eat right from the store, it will get ever so much more juicy and flavorful if you poach it gently in stock, white wine and seasonings for 3-4 hours. (NO BOILING! That could toughen it!). Of course, the best way to get gelatin in your stock is to fill this very large pot with calves’ feet, split, and marrow-filled veal bones. Also in this poaching water I like to up the flavor ante with celery, onion, carrots, garlic, tarragon (love the taste of tarragon in this dish!), parsley stems, thyme, bay leaves, peppercorns, clove, allspice. Don’t be afraid of too much flavor.
DEALING WITH THE STOCK
When the stock is done…for starters, I like to take the pot off the stove, and keep it in a cool place (55°F is OK) overnight; the stock will be so flavorful that next day! When it’s cool, strain everything out, using several thicknesses of cheesecloth. You may discard all ingredients except for the ham, of course…and the calves’ feet! The next step is clarification of the stock to make it clear in the terrine. Any classic French cookbook will tell you how to use egg whites and egg shells to clarify a stock. When your clarified stock is done, I suggest pouring a little in a very small dish, and refrigerating it. If you have enough gelatin in the stock, it will firm up within half an hour. If you don’t…you should add some Knox powdered gelatin, according to package instructions.
PREPARING ALL FOR THE TERRINE
The most important ingredient, of course, is the parsley. For an 8-lb. ham, you’ll need about 2 cups of SUPER-finely minced fresh parsley leaves. Mix them with the clarified stock. Add a couple of teaspoons of SUPER-finely minced garlic to stock, then season to taste. Now pull the cooked ham into large chunks, about 1 to 1½” square. Also pull off any edible meat from the cooked calves’ feet, shred it, and toss with the ham chunks.
An outstanding modern jambon persillé at Bistro du Bord de l’Eau in Levernois, near Beaune, in May 2012. Note the beauty of it, the order, the sheen…but note how they’ve backed away from parslied aspic!
BUILDING THE TERRINE
Choose a big white bowl for the terrine, or a rectangular terrine. Give the parslied stock a vigorous stir, and fill the terrine about ¼ of the way with the stock. Place in refrigerator and chill until stock is firm. Now lay out about half the boneless meat on a counter, and smash it with the bottom of a heavy pan. You want whole pieces of meat, but the jambon persillé tastes better if the meat has “pores” for soaking up the stock. Make sure the meat is well-seasoned. Place half of the pounded meat in the terrine on top of the aspic layer, spreading evenly. Pour in more parslied stock, coming up to the top of the meat layer. Chill in fridge again, until the second layer of stock is jellied. Finish the terrine by adding the last half of the pounded meat, then filling to the top with parslied stock. One more trip to the fridge.
After the last layer firms up, you might want to wait one day more, under refrigeration, for the flavors to come together.
At serving time, you can unmold the jambon persillé. But I like placing the terrine on the table, and cutting out broad, thick slices for my guests. Serve with mustard, cornichons, crusty bread, butter, and really crisp northern French white wine (a five-year-old village Chablis would be just about perfect!).
Ooooh…October dreams. So…before October arrives, make sure you have or know where to get these things:
A ham that matches the description above
A huge stockpot
A big terrine, rectangular or round
You are prepped! As I say, treat the above as an Elizabeth David exercise and cook away! Or wait for the more Julia-esque certainties of the recipe I’ll be sending my newsletter subscribers in January 2013. If you do make it now…and discover any cooking epiphanies…please let me know!
Photos Via: David Rosengarten, Forman & Field