Tucked away in a quiet London square close to the British Museum is the UK headquarters of cook school owned by the achingly famous French cooking school Le Cordon Bleu, which aims to teach students the culinary arts and French-style cooking techniques.
There’s always something new to learn about cooking and with this in mind I took part in a cooking evening at the school sponsored by suppliers of Parma ham, a PDO product from the northern Italian town in the Emilia Romagna region. My fellow food writers and bloggers were invited to sample and cook two dishes with the ham, also known as Proscuitto Di Parma. We worked with 12-month aged product made with pork legs sourced from a tightly controlled area around the town of Parma and created using just sea salt, air and time. The finely sliced pieces of meat, easily available in supermarkets and delis, were put to use in a savoury crème brûlée, (see below for recipe) a potato and mozzarella gratin and as part of a complex flavouring for a pan fried lemon sole, and a Virgin Dressing (shallots, red wine vinegar, tarragon, crushed black peppercorns, tomato).
Parma ham is dry cured with salt being the only preserving agent used in its making. With a taste lying between salty and sweet, its smell is typical of meats that have been dry-cured and aged. It has a mildly musty or woody aroma with hints of butter, hazelnuts and spices. .
Our chef/teacher for the night was born in the central French town of Clermont-Ferrand, David Duverger. He was raised in a family which owned a popular patisserie in the city. He had always wanted a career in food and is steeped in French cooking techniques. His cheffing CV is impressive – from working with two-Michelin starred kitchens to working with top chef Pierre Koffman, David has now settled into life in the teaching kitchens of Le Cordon Bleu, and led a very useful and entertaining class.
After preparing two dishes we gathered in a room set for dinner, with bottles of water and white wine made by Le Rocche Malatestiane , a vineyard in Rimini, Italy on the Adriatic coast and has its wine production areas on the hills overlooking the sea. The 2014 wine pairing worked really well, perhaps with the wine and main dish of sole having a maritime link. Although made from red Sangiovese grapes, this white wine was barrel fermented and aged to create medium bodied drink with a salty, smooth taste with a lingering finish.
Here’s a recipe for one of the dishes we made that evening:
Parma Ham Crème Brûlée with Hazelnut, Dried Figs & Coriander Cress
Great as a savoury starter …
100ml double cream
1 slice Parma ham
25g egg yolk
1 slice Parma ham
1 dried fig, diced
6 hazelnuts, halved
1 punnet fresh coriander cress
Preheat oven to 110˚C
In a saucepan on low heat, infuse the Parma ham with the double cream for 10 minutes then pass through a chinois (a conical sieve with a fine mesh). Pour the cream over the egg yolk and whisk, then pour the mixture into dishes or ramekins and cook for 10 minutes.
Finishing: Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Place the slice of ham on a baking tray and cook for 5 minutes or until the ham is dry and crisp. Crumble the ham into small pieces and set aside.
Blow torch the top layer of the crème custard. Garnish the tops with 3 pieces diced fig, 3 hazelnut halves, a few coriander cress leaves and a sprinkle of ham crumble.
For more information on Parma ham see www.proscuittodiparma.com
All Images (c) Fairlight Studios and the Consorzio del Parmigiano Reggiano