My mother, although multi-talented, had an aversion to the kitchen and has often said that I learned to cook at an early age “out of self-defense.” When she made chicken à l'orange by smearing a chicken with powdered Tang, I quickly developed a necessary passion for creating tasty things to eat. Somewhere in the family photograph album is a picture of me at the stove, age ten, happily stirring marinara sauce.

I developed a lifelong fascination with food; good food. There was even a foray of working as a chef’s assistant at a French restaurant during my mid twenties, just for fun. I had always loved watching Julia Child and knew that Mastering the Art of French Cooking was to be revered. It wasn’t until I read her biography (long before the Julie & Julia movie) that I really became fascinated with her work. From that book, I decided to prepare her recipe for mayonnaise.

Upon tasting it, I wept. . . .

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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tranches de Jambon à la Crème; Sautéed Ham in Fresh Cream Sauce

It's no secret that Julia enjoyed butter, cream and booze; all three get used in this recipe for ham.
In unabated abundance.

Incidentally, this recipe would be a fantastic way to use that leftover Christmas ham. That, I imagine, is how this creation came to be.

Let me begin by saying that I've never been much of a ham fan. It's just always seemed like a salty, gristly thing to me. The only way I really enjoyed it was to chuck the ham bone into a pot of split peas and discard it a couple hours later after it had manifested its ham destiny.

Until now.

Although it's a quickie, it's just about the richest recipe of hers I've come across so far. Begin by sautéeing smoked ham in butter until browned. Not a bad beginning.

After it's removed, shallots (or scallions in this case) get the same treatment.

Now for the booze: Two-thirds cup of Madeira along with 3 Tbs of Cognac deglaze the pan and reduced until only about 3 or 4 tablespoons remain.

Now for the cream: You'd think that adding one whole cup of heavy cream would be over-doing a good thing. Julia didn't think so. She calls for two cups of heavy cream. Got that?

It gets reduced. After all, you might as well concentrate that much rich butterfat.

We're not done yet. Meanwhile, whisk together 2 Tbs of cream, 2 Tbs of Dijon mustard and 1 Tbs of tomato paste.

That gets added to the cream-n-booze reduction.

Return the ham and simmer. Serve over spinach that's been braised in chicken broth (and butter).

As mentioned before, this is an incredibly rich entree. It reminded me of Pork Chops with Mustard, Cream, and Tomato Sauce (Côtes de Porc Sauce Nénette) that I had prepared a couple of months ago. However, the sauce with the previous pork recipe was considerably milder: no booze reduction and less mustard.

At first, I thought perhaps the two sauces should be switched. This more robust, pronounced sauce might zhoozh up the mild pork chops basted in butter, while the more subtle Sauce Nénette might let the smokey, salty ham play a leading role.

In actuality, this sauce is perfect for the ham. You'll enjoy the boozy, creamy, mustardiness playing with hickory of the ham. Served over a mound of hearty, ferrous spinach and you'll have an entree that your guests will remember for a very long time.

 A word of advice: Modest portions are in order. Remember, we're dealing with salty pork and concentrated cream here. You might do well to have a defibrillator at hand should any guests be dining with a pre-existing cardiac condition.

What a great recipe. The Christmas ham will pale in comparison to a second incarnation such as this.

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