At least, that’s how the authors of this quirky and enjoyable book feel! An Obsession with Ham: The Hindquarter is a handsome, hardcover cookbook written by the self-described
odd couple of southern Baptist, Mark Scarbrough, and New York Jew, Bruce Weinstein. Long-standing collaborators, these two spend 223 at times laugh-out-loud pages exploring anything and everything mankind could possibly want to know about or create with the delectable hindquarter of a pig.
A bit skeptical that such a one-note book is worth the investment? Admittedly, even the most dedicated home chefs would hesitate to buy a cookbook specifically for one major ingredient, especially in light of modern cooking hyper-stimulation from TV, blogs, and every variation of printed medium. Today, allow me to convince you why this deserving dedication to our porcine friends is worth making space on your kitchen bookshelf.
It is easy to understand the appeal of ham – it arrives at home already cooked, ready to be eaten – and a good ham is juicy, savory or sweet, and marries well with all manner of flavors. A highly versatile meat, it graces sandwiches, party platters, and formal dinner tables with equal aplomb. However, it can also generate some unpleasant associations as unoriginal, boring, lazy, or worse, reminiscent of rubbery mass – produced cafeteria food. This book will help dismiss those feelings for good by resurrecting the true culinary potential of ham.
Chinese BBQ’d Fresh Ham, Filipino Pork, & Other Hams
Interestingly, this entertaining read – yes, it reads like a novel – allows the reader to follow along as Bruce and Mark cook, taste, and bicker their way through writing the book, with snarky dialogue included for our enjoyment. Unlike most recipe books, this ham bible is part world ham tour, part insider chef secrets, part recipe guide, and part comedy routine. The book is broken into six sections, cleverly beginning with the Front End, followed by Fresh Ham, Dry-Cured Ham in the Old World, Dry-Cured Ham in the New World, Wet-Cured Ham, and rounded out with the Tail End. As previously mentioned, the novel-like writing style makes it worth progressing
numerically through the first 25 or so pages to get the feel for the book. From that point, you can bounce around to the recipes and articles that interest you most. Keep bookmarks handy to mark recipes; my shortlist includes steamed ham buns, Serrano-wrapped scallops, and shirred eggs in prosciutto crudo cups. I was also intrigued by the ham tagine, Filipino twice-cooked pork, and Chinese BBQ’d fresh ham. For any leftovers, 15 pages are dedicated to making sure not a bit goes to waste. In addition, don’t miss the tips and dialogue boxes that fill out the margins – they are chock full of genuine chef know-how that covers all range of important cooking topics, not just the bacon-flavored ones. For instance, the “Ingredient Scoop” profiles the intricacies of a specific input, while “Tester’s Notes” highlight ways to properly manage the cooking techniques being used in the adjacent recipe. “The Hind Quarterly,” “Ye Olde Oinker,” and “The Porcine Post” all whimsically present newspaper style articles on ham news and common questions.
Though you’ll obviously learn a lot about ham while reading this book, I also came away bursting with ideas for new sauces (blueberry ketchup, artichoke pesto, orange-bourbon glaze), party themes (European Ham Party), and new combinations of old flavors (split pea and ham burgers). A modern twist on an old dinnertime classic, this book delivers a multitude of recipes and ideas to transform ham from a flavor relic into a modern culinary centerpiece. With a classic, masculine, and cleanly-designed look, it will even look good on the shelf.
So, from our kitchen to yours, we can say with confidence that an Obsession with Ham: The Hindquarter is not a purchase that you will regret – especially at a mere $20. You can find it here, and enjoy!
Ham: An Obsession with the HindquarterHardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Stewart, Tabori & Chang – March 1, 2010