DETAILED CUTTING GUIDE - PALETA (SHOULDER)
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 paleta 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 Paleta
- The cutting line must be straight and parallel to the axis of the paleta
- 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 paleta and the slicing technique
You should place the paleta on a flat, stable surface at a comfortable height for slicing. Position yourself in front of the Paleta 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 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 paleta, 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 THE PALETA
The paleta has three main zones and each has its own distinct characteristics
The back of the leg. The largest part of the paleta with the juiciest meat. The largest fat coverage and the highest fat infiltration.
THE CONTRAMAZA ( Babilla)
The front of the leg. Intense, leaner and saltier meat.
Shin. The meat is very sweet and aromatic.
The paleta 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 paleta with the hoof pointing upwards somewhere between the hoof and the visible joints of the forearm. The paleta must be completely secure. The vertical axis of the paleta must point perpendicular to the ground. Note that the hoof is occasionally rotated, so follow the axis of the paleta 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 paleta 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.
REMOVING THE RIND & FAT
The paleta 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 paleta (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 paleta 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 paleta. The axis of the paleta runs from the centre of the joint to the centre of the shoulder blade. Due to the fact that the hoof is higher than the bottom part of the paleta 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 5-8 cm long. The width of the paleta increases towards the bone. The paleta (shoulder) is narrower than the Jamon (leg).
Continue cutting thin slices until you reach the first bone, the elbow joint.
First Bone Separation - Elbow Joint
The top of the elbow joint 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 paleta. 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.
Second Bone Separation - the shoulder blade
Another key stage is the separation of the shoulder blade. The scapula is a triangular bone at the end of the paleta, the apex of which will begin to appear as a white circle on the surface of the cut. The shoulder blade extends along the inside of the paleta and is relatively easy to separate. As with the elbow joint, it is better to cut around it in small steps so that it is easier to deal with the irregular shape of the bone.
Slicing around bones is the most complicated but rewarding element of slicing a paleta. As you cannot slice in a straight, parallel line without doing this, this is the key skill to demonstrate your proficiency.
The first half of the paleta is finished
As soon as the level of the cut drops to the very bottom of the upper arm (humerus), it is time to turn the paleta by 180° so you can start slicing the back of the paleta.
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 paleta.
First cut and cleaning after the rotation
After rotating the paleta (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 paleta, remove the yellow rind and fat from the section you plan to consume that day.
First Bone separation - Elbow Joint
As you start to slice, you will soon expose a round, white spot indicating the elbow joint in the upper third of the cutting line. As we will be cutting both sides of the paleta, cut completely around it with a boning knife.
The special cut we use to isolate the bones from the meat will help you to easily separate the slices from the bone.
Second Bone Separation - the shoulder blade
Another key stage is the isolation of the shoulder blade. Even on this side of the paleta, the shoulder blade should separate from the meat quite easily. However, make sure you do this in small increments so it is easier to follow the irregular shape of the bone and meat is not wasted.
When you can't slice meat anymore
Once you hit the bottom of the humerus from this side and can't slice anymore, you can then separate the meat lengthways away from the bone. Then either cut this into cubes or you use it to prepare a traditional Spanish recipe.
The final look of a completely eaten paleta
In the end, no meat should remain on the paleta. 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 humerus (the largest bone between the shoulder and the elbow), which can be easily separated by a cut in the elbow and shoulder joint.