Citizens, Spanish ham croquettes are one of the most common items to be found at Tapas bars throughout the country – and these are easily amongst the most delicious!
Most croquettes use the already excellent Spanish Serrano ham – I kick it up a notch by using the ultimate ham, the mighty jamón ibérico! Allow your all-knowing Generalissimo to bring you up to speed on this legendary ham, considered the finest in the world!
Jamón ibérico (“Iberian ham”, also called pata negra; “black hoof”) is a type of cured ham produced in Spain. According to Spain’s Denominación de Origen rules on food products, jamón ibérico may be made from black Iberian pigs, or cross-bred pigs as long as they are at least 50% ibérico.
The black Iberian pig lives primarily in western and southwestern Spain, including the provinces of Salamanca, Ciudad Real, Cáceres, Badajoz, Seville, Córdoba (Protected Denomination of Origin Valle de Los Pedroches) and Huelva (Denomination of Origin Huelva).
Immediately after weaning, the piglets are fattened on barley and maize for several weeks. The pigs are then allowed to roam in pasture and oak groves to feed naturally on grass, herbs, acorns, and roots, until the slaughtering time approaches.
At that point, the diet may be strictly limited to olives or acorns for the best quality jamón ibérico, or may be a mix of acorns and commercial feed for lesser qualities.
The hams from the slaughtered pigs are salted and left to begin drying for two weeks, after which they are rinsed and left to dry for another four to six weeks. The curing process then takes at least twelve months, although some producers cure their jamones ibéricos for up to 48 months.
Jamones de bellota are prized both for their smooth texture and rich, savory taste. A good ibérico ham has regular flecks of intramuscular fat (marbling). The fat content is relatively high compared to jamón serrano, thus giving a rich taste.
Until 2007, jamón ibérico was not available in the United States (a fact referenced in the movie Perdita Durango, where the ham of Jabugo is praised as “illegal, but delicious”).
Prior to 2005, only pigs raised and slaughtered outside of Spain were allowed to be processed in Spain for export to the United States. In 2005, the first slaughterhouse in Spain, Embutidos y Jamones Fermín, S.L. (Salamanca), was approved by the United States Department of Agriculture to produce ibérico ham products for export to the United States.
The first jamones ibéricos were released for sale in the United States in December 2007, with the bellota hams due to follow in July 2008. The basic jamón ibérico is priced upwards of $52 a pound, and the bellota is priced upwards of $96 a pound, making these hams some of the most expensive in the world.
In particular, the ibérico hams from the towns of Guijuelo in the Salamanca province and Jabugo in the Huelva province have their own Denominación de Origen. Almost the entire town of Jabugo is devoted to the production of jamón ibérico; the biggest producer is 5J Sánchez Romero Carvajal. The town’s main square is called La plaza del Jamón.
The hams are labeled according to the pigs’ diet and the percentage of the pigs’ Iberian ancestry, with an acorn diet and pure-bred Iberians being most desirable. The current labeling system, based on a series of color-coded labels, was phased in starting in January 2014.
The finest is called jamón ibérico de bellota (acorn). This ham is from free-range pigs that roam oak forests (called dehesas) along the border between Spain and Portugal, and eat only acorns during this last period. It is also known as jamón ibérico de Montanera. The exercise and diet have a significant impact on the flavor of the meat; the ham is cured for 36 months.
This grade is divided into two subtypes:
Black label — Identifies jamón 100% ibérico de bellota produced from pure-bred Iberian pigs fed as above.
Red label — Identifies jamón ibérico de bellota from free-range pigs that are not pure-bred, but also fed exclusively on acorns during the final period. Since 2014, the percentage of Iberian ancestry in the animal must be specified on the label.
The next grade is called jamón ibérico cebo de campo. This ham is from pigs that are pastured and fed a combination of acorns and grain. As of 2014, this ham bears a green label.
The third type is called jamón ibérico de cebo, or simply, jamón ibérico. This ham is from pigs that are fed only grain. The ham is cured for 24 months. As of 2014, this ham bears a white label.
Additionally, the word puro (pure, referring to the breed) can be added to the previous qualities when both the father and mother of the slaughtered animal are of pure breed and duly registered on the pedigree books held by official breeders.
Also, images of acorns and dehesas on product labels are restricted to hams that qualify as bellota. The current labeling system also applies to paleta (front legs, with jamón coming from the hind leg) and caña de lomo (loin) cuts from Iberian pigs.
The term pata negra is also used to refer to jamón ibérico in general, and may refer to any one of the above three types. The term refers to the color of the pigs’ nails, which are white in most traditional pork (Sus domesticus) breeds, but black for the Black Iberian breed. While as a general rule, a black nail should indicate an Ibérico ham, there are cases of counterfeits, with the nails being manually painted.
Citizens – these will be the finest ham croquettes you have ever experienced, of this TFD has every confidence! ☺
Battle on – The GeneralissimoPrint
- 100g cured Spanish ham, preferably in 1 chunk and preferably jamón ibérico
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 60g unsalted butter
- 1 small leek, dark-green part removed and light-green and white part finely diced
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (Optional – TFD addition)
- 60g plain flour
- 500ml whole milk, hot
- Nutmeg, to grate
- 2 free-range eggs, beaten
- 150g panko breadcrumbs
- 15g manchego cheese, finely grated
- 10g zamarano cheese, finely grated (TFD addition to recipe – if unavailable, use manchego)
- 1 liter olive oil
- Dice your ham as finely as possible.
- Put the pieces of ham in a saucepan with the milk and heat over low heat for about 15 minutes. In this way one will get juicier ham and ham flavored milk. Strain out ham and reserve.
- Heat the oil and butter in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan over a medium heat and, when the butter melts, add the leek and and fry gently for a minute, then add half of the ham and cook until the leek has softened, and the ham fat has begun to melt.
- Turn the heat down, gradually stir in the flour and the optional thyme and cook gently, stirring regularly, until it loses its raw flavor – this should take about 8–10 minutes.
- Gradually stir in the hot milk, beating it in well, until you have a smooth paste. Cook for another 15 minutes until it has the consistency of smooth mashed potato, then fold through the rest of the ham and season to taste with a grating of nutmeg and some black pepper (you won’t need any salt).
- Put the béchamel in a bowl and allow to cool, then cover, pressing the clingfilm on to the surface of the sauce to prevent a skin from forming, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and preferably overnight.
- Put the beaten eggs into a bowl, and the breadcrumbs and cheese into another. With floured hands, roll spoonfuls of the mixture into cylinders and dip these into the egg, then roll in the breadcrumbs until well coated.
- Heat the olive oil in a large pan to 180C, or until it begins to shimmer. Prepare a plate lined with kitchen roll. Fry the croquetas in batches for a couple of minutes until golden all over, then lift out with a slotted spoon and serve at once.
Citizens, please note that I can no longer afford to absorb the nearly $1000 per month it costs to keep the site running smoothly, including marketing expenses, etc.
You can make a difference!
Please consider making a one-time donation to help keep the site live and the posts coming – click here to PayPal Me a tip!
You can also show your support by listening to our podcasts, liking them, and sharing as you see fit – try them out here.
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Let us improve this post!
Tell us how we can improve this post?