It's hardly surprising that a cookbook that begins with a pig slaughter and ends with trying to sneak a whole ham past airport security (TSA officer: "Is this human?") had us hooked from the word "ham."
Ham, An Obsession with the Hindquarter by the culinary duo Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough (Scarbrough cooks and talks, Weinstein eats and writes) would be worth a read simply for the thorough research and recipes, which range from classic "button busters" like fried country ham steaks with red eye gravy to more modern fare, including jerk-style ham and pineapple tamales in the "glorious leftovers" chapter.
But it's the authors' tendency to babble on about the enviable length of their pig's (aptly named Wilbur) eyelashes in one breathe, and elenski but, a Bulgarian dry-cured ham, the next minute, that left us utterly charmed -- and seriously craving a ham pot pie.
The book begins by defining a ham, not exactly an easy task (does it include uncured pork, all four legs of a pig or only two?).
For Weinstein and Scarbrough, a ham hails from the back haunches only (so no Boston butt, which is actually the front shoulder) and can be raw, cured or smoked. And it must come from pigs. No need to track down a wild boar simply to make a Monday night ham and butternut squash tettrazini (the "noodles" are wide strands of squash).
The chapters are divided by region and type of ham: dry-cured hams from the old and new worlds, wet cured and fresh hams. Within each are frank discussions, such as whether that Madrid butcher really should be dangling his jamón serrano over the doorjamb, or if we are just a bunch of uptight Americans fueled by our obsession for the latest SubZero products.
A cautionary note: If you're planning to cook your way through Ham using last week's Ralph's special, we suggest you flip past the discussion of nitrates and nitrites. Then again, it's difficult to imagine Weinstein, who says the ladies were swooning when he brought these deviled eggs to a knitting class, using anything but America's Certified Nitrate Best.
Deviled Eggs with Ham
From: Ham: An Obsession with the Hindquarter, by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough.
Makes 12 deviled egg halves.
6 large eggs
4 ounces smoked, wet-cured ham, such as a spiral-sliced ham, any sugary coating removed, finely chopped into 1/4-inch bits
1 medium scallion, minced
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons minced celery (about 1/2 small rib)
2 teaspoons jarred white horseradish
1 teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon minced tarragon leaves or 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, optional
Several dashes hot red pepper sauce, such as Tabasco sauce, to taste
1. Set the eggs in a large saucepan, cover them with cool water until the water stands about 1 inch over the eggs, and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil for 2 minutes, then cover the pan and set off the heat for 7 minutes.
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2. Carefully drain the pan over the sink, leaving the eggs inside; then run lots of cold tap water into it to bring the eggs to room temperature. Peel off the shells.
3. Split the eggs in half lengthwise and use a little spoon to scoop the yellow yolks into a large bowl, taking care not to break or tear the whites. Save these back on a plate.
4. Mix the yolks with all the remaining ingredients. Using the back of a fork, mash the yolks fully into the mixture. Then use a small spoon to mound this mixture back into the indentations in the halved egg whites.
5. Place on a platter, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or up to 24 hours so the flavors meld a bit.