What the heck is wrong with American supermarket ham?
Well, pretty much everything.
I’ve never been a fan of ham. I love bacon (who doesn’t?), and a crispy-skinned roasted suckling pig is to die for. And those pork tenderloins you can get from Central Market seasoned with Hatch chiles? Check. Or cantaloupe chunks wrapped in paper-thin slices of prosciutto? Check, check.
But that pale, mushy, almost flavorless spiral thing that comes in a tin can that your relatives serve at Easter? No. Heck no. How is it that we can take a noble pig and turn it into this? Then again we are the country that invented processed white bread, so there you go.
Apparently ham is like chocolate in Spain. And why not?
Anyway, with the upcoming Easter holiday and people sending me photos from Spain, (I’ll get to this in a minute) I’ve been thinking about ham a lot. When it comes to breakfast tacos and omelets on weekends I routinely order them with everything BUT ham. And maybe mushrooms. They are both a texture thing and their lesser versions are rarely tasty.
But American supermarket ham pales (literally) in comparison with the real deal that you find in other countries. Like Spain.
This summer some friends of mine toured Spain and posted photos on Facebook of . . . ham. Hanging hams in markets, ham dishes and even vending machines that dispense ham snacks. Apparently ham is like chocolate in Spain.
And why not? Real ham, the kind you find in Europe and some places right here in Houston, is much more delicious than the mass market stuff you’ll find at the supermarket.
And then my sister just moved to Barcelona. She also sent photos of hams, hams everywhere. In vending machines, in restaurants, even whole legs hanging in grocery stores — glorious, delicious hams everywhere! Not only is Spain the largest producer of cured ham, but its citizens also eat more of it than anyone else.
A Spanish Food Lesson
The Spanish people know how to make great ham. Jamón Iberico de Bellota is considered the finest ham in the world, it comes from hogs raised free-range, munching on acorns and herbs. The meat is cured for up to four years before it’s sold for about $150 a pound. Yeah, that’s a heck of a lot more than you would pay for a Honeybaked ham but the difference in taste is amazing.
The meat is cured for up to four years before it’s sold for about $150 a pound.
Now if you aren’t heading to Spain before Easter, you can order some fine Spanish hams online from sites like La Tienda, a very drool worthy site. And Central Market usually has some pretty good Spanish hams in the deli section.
Or, you can go local and stop by Revival Market for some delicious Mangalitsa meat. Co-owner Morgan Weber raises the heritage poodle pigs at his farm in Yoakum,. These pigs taste like pigs should, like they did in the old days before factory farms started turning out super lean, bland tasting pork shot full of hormones and other drugs. Sure, you’ll pay a little more for these piggies, but they’re worth it.
So this Easter forego the canned ham and get some real pork on the table.