Saturday, February 14, 2009

Dinner with Norpois (III): Made-In-New York Ham

The day before, Françoise had sent down to the oven of the local baker what she called “a Nev York ham,” looking like pink marble inside its coating of breadcrumbs. In the belief that the language was poorer than it is, and her own ears less reliable than they were, the first time Françoise had heard of “York ham,” she must have deduced that the lexicon could not possibly be so abundant as to allow for both York and New York, that she had misheard, and that the right name was the one she already knew. Hence, ever since, the name of York was always preceded, for Françoise’s ears and eyes, by the word “New,” which she pronounced “Nev.” So it was with total sincerity that she would say to her scullery maid, “Go down to Olida’s and get some ham. Ma’am particularly said she wants the Nev York.”

—In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower 17-8

To begin with, I knew I wasn’t going to find a recipe for “New York Ham” (or, as Françoise calls it: “Nev York Ham”). So I decided to compose my own version of “York Ham,” since I wasn’t about to secure a traditionally cured ham either. Thus instead of Françoise’s “Nev York Ham,” looking like “pink marble inside its coating of breadcrumbs” (17), my made-in-New York Ham glistens with a Marsala and raisin glaze.

The major ingredients in the glaze are raisins soaked in Marsala wine until they are plumped and infused with the sweet alcohol goodness. They are further sautéed in the creamy butter-shallot mixture, reinforced with the sweetness of honey, light brown sugar and then modified by the tanginess of red wine vinegar, all of which is rounded out by the addition of rosemary to create the woodsy flavor that goes well with meat dishes. Simmered down even more in the sauce pan, the reduction is buzzed in a blender to combine all the heavenly aroma and flavors.

If “Nev York Ham” is a misnomer out of Françoise’s belief that “language is poorer than it is and her own ear less reliable than they were” (17), I suspect that the idea of a glazed ham (be it honey glazed or maple syrup glazed) comes from a similar doubt about the cured and smoked ham—that the ham, by any name, is still short of flavor. For a great creator like Françoise, the misnomer out of her mistake and disbelief in language can be further justified as a creative way to update the knowledge and create a personal interpretation for otherwise monotonous ingredients. As such, the ham, in her own creation, is covered with breadcrumbs. Perhaps, it is also spread with Dijon mustard to boost the flavor of the yet salty ham that would have soaked for hours before cooking.

In my version, morphing from “Nev York” to New York, my misnomer is my mindless substitution of Marsala for Madeira wine (both are spelled similarly and taste similar). Similar to Françoise’s error adding a dimension to the ham every time she in sincerity uttered its name, my own creation of a new dish was accepted gladly, when introduced sincerely as “Ham with Marsala-Raisin Glaze.” In addition to the multiple layers of flavors, the glaze adds the shining darker amber gloss over this beautiful spiral ham that, after baking, opens up like a flower to the sun.

The glaze on the ham is subtle, but definitely not inconsequential. The subtlety of the glaze lets the original flavor of ham stand out while, at the same time, jazzing up the heaviness of the hock. As such, the morsel of ham expresses both the sturdy texture of the meat as well as the infused flavor of the glaze concocted with wine, raisins and herbs.

So is “Nev York Ham” a mere misnomer? Or does such a “misnomer” have nothing “mere” about it but is rather a fabulous mistake that brings up creative new possibilities? After all, biscotti started out as a disastrously twice-baked loaf until somebody dipped into the idea that with espresso, tea or port, these over-cooked cookies are intensely crunchy goodies. Mistakes can be lovable morphs.

Madeira-Raisin Glaze
(Adapted from Get Saucy by Grace Parisi)

I love the sweet, molasses-y flavor of raisins, especially when used with savory dishes. Madeira is a sweet wine similar to Marsala or port. Use this elegant sauce to glaze beef, port, duck, or chicken, or stir a tablespoon into a pan to add extra flavor.

Makes 1 cup

½ cup dark raisins
½ cup Madeira
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large shallot, minced
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons firmly packed light brown sugar
¼ cup red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a small bowl, soak the raisins in the Madeira until plump, about 20 minutes.

Melt the butter in a medium-size saucepan over medium-high heat. When the foam subsides, add the shallot and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the soaked raisins and any unabsorbed Madeira, the honey, brown sugar, vinegar, and rosemary and bring to a boil. Simmer until reduced by about a third, about 5 minutes.

Transfer the mixture to a blender and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Will keep, tightly covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Made-in-New York Ham

1 store-bought (14- to 16-pound) fully cooked, spiral-cut smoked ham

Prepare the ham according to the package instruction. Brush Madeira-Raisin glaze on ham at the time suggested by the instruction.

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