Prosciutto or jamon: Which is better to cook with?

Prosciutto di Parma: The 'perfect balance of meat, salt and fat'.
Prosciutto di Parma: The 'perfect balance of meat, salt and fat'. Photo: Christopher Pearce

Prosciutto or jamon: Which is better to cook with? L. Taggerty

I made the mistake of asking for some jamon to cook with, and the Spanish grocer refused to sell it to me. "Jamon is a perfect balance of meat, salt and fat," she said. "If you cook it, it will lose water, and you will ruin that perfect balance." A lot of jamon is well-aged, six months to four years depending on the age. This means it has lost a lot of water. Some brands of prosciutto are quite soft and can handle a little grilling, but again you can end up with a dry and salty piece of something resembling mummy skin. At this time of the year, when you want something salty to crumble over steamed asparagus, consider using pancetta, or for a smoky touch, Kaiserfleisch. However, you really can't go past grilled streaky bacon. For the record, after my Spanish grocer stopped chastising me, I was able to tell her that I was after an end piece of jamon. Added to the stockpot, these salty, meaty chunks make for the best-tasting stock or flavourful bechamel for croquettes after being simmered in milk.

After many years of having a household full of people, I am now cooking for one. Suggestions? E. O'Gallagher

There is such pleasure in cooking for others. To choose, peel, chop, saute, fold, bake, garnish and serve food for other people is something so beautifully and inherently human. It gives so many of us such great pleasure to see others gain happiness through the food we make. There is also the intrinsic joy of cooking for cooking's sake. I look to my mum for inspiration for this. She lives alone. She is also a great cook. There's always chicken stock in her freezer that becomes a seasonal soup depending on what she harvests from her vegie garden. An accomplished pastry cook, she will turn out a little quiche at the drop of a hat to keep her hand in. She also takes great pride in looking after herself with a nutritionally diverse diet so shops regularly for seasonal vegetables and small fillets of fish that she brings together in her salad bowl. There are also some good cookbooks written for people living solo. I checked my two local libraries and they carry several titles each. One more thing - if you want to keep up with the latest fashions in food, do not be afraid of dining alone. According to a recent report, 40 per cent of walk-in diners in restaurants are dining by themselves. Bon appetit.

Letters

"I was shocked to read your comment about thickening slow-cooked dishes," writes A. Barnett. "I would never 'thicken it with a bit of flour and water'. I prepare a beurre manie and encourage my cooking son (63 years old) to do the same." A. Barnett is, of course, referring to a dough-like mix of half soft butter and plain flour. This is added to thicken sauces that are too thin. The butter coats the flour and melts before the starch granules make contact with water. This slow-release stops the flour from forming lumps in the sauce.

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