Pork 43: Honeyed Ham (蜜火腿)

“Take a good ham and chop it into large chunks with its skin on and braise it in sweet wine until it is very soft and tender. This is an excellent dish.

Note though, the differences between a good and bad ham are as great as the distances between the heavens and the ocean’s abyss. There are numerous well known hams from Jinhua, Lanxi and Yiwu that simply do not live up to their reputations. These bad hams are frankly no better than dried salted pork.

Wangsan’s store in Zhongqingli Hangzhou sells a very good ham that cost four qian per jin. I have had this ham once at the abode of Yin Wenduan. Its fragrance was so intense that the neighbours could smell it during preparation and its flavours were uncommonly good. Sadly, I have never had such a extraordinary ham since.”

持牲單::蜜火腿
取好火腿,連皮切大方塊,用蜜酒煨極爛,最佳。但火腿好醜、高低判若天淵。雖出金華、蘭溪、義烏三處,而有名無實者多。其不佳者,反不如醃肉矣。惟杭州忠清里王三房家,四錢一斤者佳。余在尹文端公蘇州公館吃過一次,其香隔戶便至,甘鮮異常。此後不能再遇此尤物矣。

The blood-red fat-speckled hams of Spain. Truly incredible stuff. (Credit: Evaglesias)

With North Americans having learned how to eat dry-cured hams over the past two decades, today’s supermarket shelves and deli counters are rarely short of it. Still, most of these dried hams leave a lot to be desired. Even in Toronto, which claims to be a “world class city” with products from all around the planet available at our finger tips, one never seems to be able to get anything beyond just lame, uninspiring, “salted meat”.

Sure, better things are found at those yuppy or hipster ham bars, but seriously, are you going to go there and pay out of your nose for some average thing that you can get for a few euro in Salamanca?

Yuan Mei is right, good ham is hard to come by.

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