DETAILED CUTTING GUIDE - JAMON (LEG)
A LONG FLEXIBLE KNIFE - JAMONERO
This specialist knife is designed exclusively for slicing wafer-thin, translucent slices of meat and is an essential tool that you will probably not have at home.
This knife is never used for any other purpose and it pays to get a better quality, more expensive version. Not only must this knife be flexible and razor-sharp but if you purchase one with a hollow blade (i.e. with small grooves cut out of the flat blade) this will reduce friction and enable you to slice much more easily.
STURDY, STRAIGHT BONING KNIFE
This is a more common knife which is used primarily to separate the meat from the bones but can also be used to cut into the hard outer rind. They tend to be very sharp and solid knives which can be used for everything except slicing as they lack the required flexibility.
LARGE KITCHEN KNIFE
It is often easier to use a large Kitchen Knife to cut through the hard outer rind as the larger blade and handle allows you to exert more pressure to the cut. However this can still be done adequately with the smaller Boning knife if needed.
When slicing a jamon it is important that you use a stand to ensure you have a safe and stable base to cut from to avoid injury. If you are starting out, a basic stand which usually consists of two boards and a fixing screw is sufficient. However, you will quickly see the benefits of upgrading to a larger, heavier stand with an adjustable neck.
BASIC RULES FOR SLICING JAMON
The cutting line must be straight and parallel to the axis of the Jamon
- Only meat and white (not yellow) fat can be eaten. The rind and yellow oxidized fat are not edible and should be discarded.
The positioning of the Jamon and the slicing technique
You should place the Jamon on a flat, stable surface at a comfortable height for slicing. Position yourself in front of the Jamon with the hoof pointing away from you. When you slice, cut in a downwards direction towards you from the hoof.
The Jamonero knife should be held gently to allow the blade to slice without exerting excess pressure. The blade should do the work and only cut as the blade moves towards you. It is definitely easier to cut using the part of the blade that is closest to the handle as this allows for more control.
The cortador's knives are extremely sharp and can easily cut through the skin. The most important principle when slicing is to always keep the free hand behind the knife edge on the blunt side of the blade. So when slicing a Jamon, the safest place to keep your free hand is by the hoof and away from the knife.
AN IDEAL SLICE
The perfect slice of Spanish Ham should have the following characteristics:
- It should contain only a small amount of meat (i.e. one bite)
- It should be 5 cm or 6 cm wide (about the width of the open cutting surface)
- It should contain three key elements - an outer drier/more intense section, an inner juicier section and some white fat.
PARTS OF JAMON
Jamón has five main parts.
The back of the leg. The largest part of the paleta with the juiciest meat. The largest fat coverage and the highest fat infiltration.
Also the back of the leg. Intense, leaner and saltier meat.
THE PUNTA ( THE FLANK)
The Punta is the juicy and flavoursome tip of the ham which benefited from the fat collection during the hanging process.
THE BABILLA ( THE FRONT OF THE LEG)
The Babilla is opposite the Maza and is much leaner. Therefore the meat tends to be more cured and less juicy.
THE JARRETE (The Shin)
The Jarrete is the area around the hoof and the meat is very sweet and aromatic.
The Jamón is likely to arrive vacuum sealed and in a fabric sock. First, remove the fabric sock so you can inspect the vacuum seal. The seal can be broken in transit so it is important you inspect this as soon as possible for any damage. If the vacuum seal is loose, you should remove the plastic, even if you plan to consume later. The paleta can be hung (using the rope provided) or placed in a holder for storage.
FIXING THE MEAT IN THE STAND & THE FIRST CUT
PLACING IN THE STAND
We recommend securing the Jamon with the hoof pointing upwards somewhere between the hoof and the visible joints of the forearm. The Jamon must be completely secure. The vertical axis of the Jamon must point perpendicular to the ground. Note that the hoof is occasionally rotated, so follow the axis of the Jamon and not the orientation of the hoof.
THE FIRST CUT
Make the first cut with a solid kitchen knife through the hard outer rind to the bone at approximately 2 inches from the forearm joints. You can cut around the entire Jamon or just the top section.
This will make it much easier to remove the rest of the rind when cleaning and will also provide a cut-line when slicing.
It is practical to cut a wedge behind the cut (see picture), which makes it easier to separate the slices.
REMOVING THE RIND & FAT
The Jamon is covered with a hard, dark yellow rind, and soft, oxidized yellow fat. This needs to be removed to get to the edible part of the Jamon (white fat and pink / red meat). For this cleaning process, use either a boning knife or a kitchen knife. Try to cut the yellow rind and fats in long, thin layers to avoid removing white fats and meat.
IMPORTANT! The outer rind protects the Jamon and stops it from drying out. Therefore, you should only clean the section that you intend to slice that day.
HOW TO CUT THIN SLICES
Once you remove all yellow fat, you can start slicing. It is essential to always keep the cutting line smooth and avoid creating a U-shape. The cutting level must always be parallel to the axis of the Jamon. The axis of the Jamon runs from the centre of the joint to the centre of the hip bone. Due to the fact that the hoof is higher than the bottom part of the Jamon on most stands, the cutting line is also inclined downwards from the hoof to the blade.
When you cut through the outer covering of fat, the proportion of fat in the slices is higher than in the slices closer to the bone.
Always aim to cut the thinnest slices possible. Each slice should only be a mouthful. Depending on the current cutting width, the ideal slice is 4-6 cm long. The width of the Jamon increases towards the bone.
Continue cutting thin slices until you reach the first bone, the hip joint.
FIRST BONE SEPARATION - THE HIP BONE
The top of the hip bone will soon appear and must be separated from the meat with a boning knife so that you can continue to keep the line of the cut parallel to the axis of the Jamon. This step is absolutely essential so that you do not form a U-shape and it is not complicated. Just feel the bone with a knife and carefully cut around it as closely as possible to separate it from the meat. Since the bone is at an angle, it is better to separate a small section at a time otherwise you will waste meat.
Once the bone is separated, you can slice up to the bone and the slice will come away cleanly.
Slicing the meat around the bones is the most difficult part, but don't be afraid of it. Try to cut around the bone elegantly with a knife and the result will be a beautiful thin slice of interesting pointed shape.
SECOND BONE SEPARATION - THE KNEE JOINT
As soon as the knee joint appears at the top of the incision level, cut around the joint and continue slicing for a maximum of 1 cm to preserve enough meat for lateral slicing.
THE FIRST HALF OF THE JAMON IS FINISHED
When slicing the Jamon, do not cut until you reach the bottom of the femur like with paleta. Stop once you reach the knee joint because you need to keep enough meat for the third phase of slicing when turning by 90 °. Now turn the Jamon by 180 °.
As you will be repeating the cleaning process on a new section of meat, this is also a good time to pause slicing if you want to take a longer break and store the Jamon.
FIRST CUT AND CLEANING AFTER THE ROTATION
After rotating the Jamon (hoof now pointing downwards), make the initial cut with a kitchen knife (if you have not done already). As with the first half of the Jamon, remove the yellow rind and fat from the section you plan to consume that day. We continue by slicing thin slices in parallel level to the axis of the Jamon.
FIRST BONE SEPARATION - THE HIP BONE
The top of the hip bone is visible first. The isolation is relatively simple because the hip extends along the inside of the Jamon and is separated by an almost straight cut.
By separating the meat from the bone, it will make it much easier to separate slices from the bone.
SECOND BONE SEPARATION - THE KNEE JOINT
Another key stage is the separation of the knee joint. This joint can easily be separated by cutting across with a boning knife as there is very little meat left on the edge of the joint (see the picture above).
Then continue slicing until the height of the side strip of meat is about 3-4 inches.
45° ROTATION, SLICING AND THE END
Turn the Jamon by 45° so that the outside of the Jamon points upwards. There will be a beautiful strip of meat on the bone, which can be cut into thin slices at an angle of 45°.
Once you reach the knee joint, you can then separate the meat lengthways away from the bone. Then either cut this into cubes or use it to prepare a traditional Spanish recipe. The meat between the tibia and fibula can be cut by breaking one of the bones.
THE FINAL LOOK OF A COMPLETELY EATEN JAMON
In the end, no meat should remain on the Jamon. If you plan to use the bones in a traditional Spanish recipe, make sure that there is no yellow rind or fat left, as it is inedible and will leave an unpleasant, rancid taste. Use the femur (the largest bone between the hip and the knee), which can be easily separated by a cut in the knee and hip joint.