When I think of the great foods of the world, I don’t necessarily think of ham. I love ham, don’t get me wrong. However, I am used to it as the thinly-sliced-for-a-sandwich style or smeared with honey and crusted in brown sugar for a holiday. Ham: An Obsession with the Hindquarter offers up a collection one hundred tasty sounding recipes are paired with gleeful anecdotes like a buttery prime rib should be paired with a fine Cabernet.
Author Mark Scarbrough jumped square into the deep-end of the hilarity pool. Starting off with their definition of ham:
“Composed of four muscles, a ham is one back haunch (the butt cheek, if you will) and upper back leg down to the shank (the shin, in butcher parlance) of a pig, boar, shoat, or other porcine-ish animal…Every pig or pig-ish animal has two hams. A ham need not be smoked or cured in any way. The haunch of any other animal is not a ham.”
Descriptions that made my stomach grumble about its barrenness topped each of the ingredient lists. Case and point: “The meat aged until the fat melted at tongue temperature: soft, sweet, a little salty, smooth as a perfectly cooked duck breast, but with more tang, more spice.” Mark’s masterful use of word-porn made this cookbook my newest favorite. I’m impatient to try a few new ways to consume ham like Bourbon-Soaked Ham and Beans or the Pasta with Prosciutto Crudo, Peas, and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Humor is also injected with some of the number of servings listed. I can’t decide which made me laugh more: “feeds 6 teenage boys, 16 adults, or 26 twentysomething models” Or, for pork cracklings: “Well, really, the service size should be 0 because you’re not supposed to eat this stuff. But plan on serving 6 to 8, provided the cardiologist isn’t looking.”
Since the entire book revolves around such a fat-laden meat, Mark tried to slow the cholesterol train by adding in side notes “Round Out The Whole Meal.” These additions offer delectably healthy sides that are heavy on the fruit and vegetables such as mango with fire-roasted red pepper. “Tester’s Notes” were also shared after most recipes. These include alternate preparation methods, or pitfalls to avoid, to assist in the reader’s attempts at hamming it up.
Another facet I enjoyed was the “Ingredient Scoop” sidenotes. These included facts and history about ingredients. I didn’t realize “light” on soy sauce labels is to distinguish it from the syrup-esk dark soy sauce, not to show it has less sodium. I learned instead “lite” holds that distinguished meaning. Additionally, the “Slash The Shopping List” sidebars provided common, or less expensive, substitutions for the more exotic ingredients – especially for those Moroccan or Old-World dishes.
I would joyously recommend this cookbook to anyone that wanted to dive into a succulent world of cured, uncured, smoked, fresh or roasted pig butt. Or to anyone that needed a good chuckle.