“There are important differences in the quality of home-styled pork from Hangzhou. They can be grouped into three different grades: high, medium and low. High grade items should be mildly salty but still umami, with lean meat that is tender enough to bit into. When these high quality specimens of home-cured pork are allowed to aged, they become excellent dried hams.”
The homely sounding “home-styled pork” (jiaxiang rou, 家鄉肉) that Yuan Mei is referring to none other than the internationally acclaimed Jinhua ham. While many Chinese communities make dried cured pork of all sorts, the ones produces in Zhejiang are the most well-known and sought after. So much so that whole cities in the province had become inextricably linked to cured pork. For instance, home-styled pork of has become “Jinhua ham”, taking the name of Zhejiang’s Jinhua city. As well, the multinational cured meat products company “Hsin Tung Yang” (新東陽, lit. new Dongyang) was named after Dongyang city, located inside Jinhua city.
This section on home-styled pork (or Jinhuan ham) is less of a recipe and more an introduction in how to choose and distinguish the quality of this highly esteemed ingredients in Chinese cuisine. As with Spanish dry-cured hams, the way one determines the quality of ham is that should be highly umami and fragrant, not too salty, and easily eaten when sliced. When well aged, both types of ham are a highly fragrant and joy to eat. While most Western dry-cured hams are eaten raw, I’m not sure this is commonly done with Jinhua ham. In general, very few animal products are eaten raw in modern Chinese cuisine. While, Jinhua ham can probably be eaten raw, most will eat it prepare like the Chinese dry-cured meats mention in the last few sections: soaked in water or wine, steamed, then sliced.