Prosciutto, popularly known as parma ham or prosciutto ham, is ham that has been dry-cured. It originated in Italy, where the hind leg or thigh meat of pig or boar is used for preparing this cured meat. This meat is generally sliced and eaten as it is, uncooked, in sandwiches, salads, in pizza toppings, as a stuffing ingredient in stuffed meats, breads, in pasta sauces and many more Italian as well as other cuisines’ preparations. It is ideal for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This cured meat tends to shred and stick easily; hence, it should be added towards the end of cooking a dish. While, uncooked cured ham is referred as “prosciutto crudo”, the cooked ham is known as “prosciutto cotto”. Other than Central and Northern Italy, this ham is popular is other European countries such as Slovenia, Croatia, and Serbia. Grilled Figs with Prosciutto, Cantaloupe & Prosciutto Salad and Grilled Eggplant and Prosciutto are few popular prosciutto recipes.
Prosciutto dates back to the Roman time, where pork meat was drained off all the fluids and dried naturally. This ham is popularly known as “parma ham”, because of its popularity in the Italian regions such as San Daniele and Parma, in Friuli-Venezia Giulia located in the central and northern part of Italy. The word “prosciutto” is derived from perexsiccatus or perexsicco, a Latin word that means “to thoroughly dry”. In fact, the Portuguese term “presunto” used for this cured ham also has the same meaning; while “prsut”, the Croatian, Slovene and Serbian version of the ham is also derived from Latin.
Prosciutto is made by air-drying ham. This process usually takes anywhere between 18 to 24 months; however, the drying conditions are important. Ham dries properly and to the required feel and texture when the climatic condition is cool and not too warm or too dry, else the meat can spoil. The meat is first cleaned, salted (preferably sea salt) and then dried for about 8 weeks, after which it is pressed to drain out all the blood. The semi-dry meat is again washed many times to remove all the salt and then hung-dried in a well-ventilated place. These days, certain nitrates such as potassium or sodium are used for the curing process, which results in ham that has a different flavor with a rosy color.
There are many culinary uses of prosciutto, as detailed below –
- Used as pizza topping and in pasta sauces.
- Sliced ham is used in sandwiches, burgers, croissants and a popular Italian dish - Panini.
- Served as an accompaniment to various cooked vegetables such as peas and asparagus and also used in salads.
- It is also used in various tagliatelle (pasta) preparations.
- It is used as a wrap with steak, veal, etc.
Types of Parma Ham
As per the EU protected designations (PDO), there are many types of Prosciutto –
- Prosciutto di Parma
- Prosciutto di Modena
- Prosciutto Veneto Berico-Euganeo
- Prosciutto di San Danielle
- Prosciutto Toscano
- Prosciutto di Norcia
- Prosciutto di Carpegna
- Prosciutto di Sauris
- Crudo di Cuneo
- Speck dell’Alto Adige
Popular Prosciutto Recipes
Prosciutto is best accompanied by fresh figs, mozzarella and melon. There are many popular preparations of this cured meat, with a couple detailed here –
- Saltimbocca – This is a popular Italian dish, where veal escalopes are topped with sage leaf and then wrapped in prosciutto before they are pan-fried.
- Grilled Figs with Prosciutto – This simple yet delicious appetizer is made by wrapping prosciutto around scored fig halves that have been seasoned with salt and pepper. They are placed on greens and drizzled with balsamic vinegar mixture (with olive oil, salt and pepper) that has been boiled down to half its amount.
- Grilled Eggplant with Prosciutto – This delicious and healthy salad is made by topping spinach leaves (that have been drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar) with a layer of broiled red pepper slices, followed by cooked eggplant slices that have a topping of sun-dried tomato paste. Finally, each of the eggplant slices is topped with a piece of prosciutto.
- Cantaloupe and Prosciutto Salad – A scrumptious summer treat, this salad is made by tossing together cantaloupe, vinegar, olive oil, prosciutto, chives and sugar. Salt and pepper is added to taste and the salad is served in a plate along with toasted bread slices and goat cheese and garnished with chives.
Culatello is a popular variation of prosciutto, which is made from meat of heavier pigs. Wine is used for curing, which gives the meat a unique flavor. It is generally served as an appetizer with fresh figs or slices of sweet melon on New Year’s Eve.