Baked ham in pastry with figs (page 62)
1 kg piece of gammon, pre-soaked if necessary
5 dried figs
3 bay leaves
250 g plain white flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp olive oil
100 ml water
100 g set honey
olive oil for brushing
fish sauce, or salt and honey for seasoning
Cover the gammon in cold water, add the figs and bay leaves and bring to the boil. Simmer for 20 minutes per 500 grams plus an extra 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool in the water.
While it is cooling, sieve the flour and salt together into a bowl and add the oil and the water gradually to form a dough. Knead until smooth and pliable. This amount of dough should cover at least a two-kilo joint so adjust the amount to suit the size of your joint.
Cut the dough in half and roll one portion out into a large thin sheet. Follow the method in the recipe for tracta on page 37.* The pastry sheet should resemble that used for apple strudel rather than filo and the thicker edges of the sheet should be trimmed before you begin to wrap the meat.
Place the meat on a board and remove the skin. Score the fat with a knife right through to the flesh to create a criss-cross pattern. Spread the honey over the fat and into the cuts. Spread it over any surfaces of the lean meat too.
Brush your first pastry sheet with olive oil and lay the meat at one end. Roll the meat up in the dough, fold over the edges to make a parcel, and brush its exterior with more oil. Trim away any excess pastry.
Roll the other half of the dough into a sheet and brush its upper surface with olive oil. Wrap the meat again, this time tracking the minimum amount of excess dough under the joint. Brush the exterior with more oil.
Bake in a medium oven (375 degrees F, 190 degrees C, gas 5) for 1 hour until the pastry is crisp and light brown. Remove and allow to stand for 10 minutes.
Strain 250 ml of the cooking liquor into a small pan and season with a little fish sauce or salt if desired, and a little honey. Taste and adjust the balance of flavors. Carve thick slices of meat and spoon a little of the liquor over them. Serve it forth.
*To paraphrase these directions, you would roll the dough, turn it over, roll it more, and repeat until very thin. Do not push from the center but use brisk "back-and-forth" motion at the edges. Make it as thin as possible without it tearing.
Gammon is a hind leg of pork that is cured like bacon by dry-salting or brining. It is sold uncooked. The difference between it and ham is that ham is already cooked.
I do not know of any place in my area that sells gammon. Ham is easy to obtain and that is what I used. However I was concerned about the amount of cooking time called for in the recipe as I did not want to overcook the already cooked ham. So I shortened the amount of time simmering in the water to 30 minutes.
It took about 15 minutes of kneading to get the dough smooth. Then I let it rest while the ham finished cooling and the dough's pliability improved because of it. I rolled it out to what I thought was very thin (I could read through it) then used my hand to spread the oil on its surface.
Note that when you remove the ham from the simmering liquid you want to keep that liquid for later (that is the "cooking liquor" mentioned for the sauce).
My honey was runny, not set (solid), and that created a problem in keeping it on the ham.
The second layer of dough made a nice, neat little package of the whole thing. It looked great!
It cooked about an hour in order to get the dough browned.
I will call this a success but not anything glorious. I don't think there is anything wrong with Ms. Grainger's recipe and feel that the problems were all mine from making too many changes.
The shortened cooking time did not appear to adequately flavor the ham with anything more than a light herbal scent from the bay leaves. The figs did not seem to add anything at all although the water and the ham's exterior became darker. The bay flavor was nice but weak.
The runny honey did not add anything to the tasting experience. Ms. Grainger says, "The meat finishes cooking in its case while retaining the juices, which caramelize with the honey -- wonderful!" My already-cooked ham did not have any juices and the honey was just a thin layer.
I probably could have gotten the dough layers thinner. I thought they were thin enough and I even baked the scraps to see what they would be like as crispy. They were very tasty but the wrapped ham layers were tough and dry. Only the parts that were absolutely thin were pretty good.
The cooking liquor's flavor was weak and watery, so I added in about two tablespoons of liquamen and then reduced it by about 1/3 on the stove. This tasted pretty good but only added a little bit to the ham's flavor. It did soften and moisten the crust. If I had a weak liquor again, I would reduce it first and then add the liquamen.
My guest taster thought it was fine. I thought the ham was fine but not much different from the ham as it was purchased and the crust was okay.
I really liked the concept, though, and would love to try it again some time using a piece of uncooked pork, like a tenderloin or roast.
I looked around the Internet to see if I could acquire a gammon and found I would have to import it at a cost of around US $80 before shipping fees. I will pass on this!