Spice Islands Ham and Melon
“How should melon be eaten? Not with a spoon, as is usual in restaurants….the back of the spoon anaesthetises the taste buds! In this way, it loses half of its flavour. Melon should be eaten with a fork.”Propos de table by J. De Coquet in June 1982 Le Figaro
We’re just coming into cantaloupe season and this year I have managed to find some unbelievably sweet and juicy specimens – you almost have to suck the melon abruptly off the fork (De Coquet is right – best to use a fork) to stop undignified dribbles over the chin.
What to have with it… it may be a cliché… but the traditional pairing of ham with melon is popular for a reason – the sweet melon complements the salty ham perfectly.
And this May I’ve been doubly blessed – not just with au point ripe cantaloupes, but also with the ham to match up to it. Being in Italy, I was on the point of ordering some San Daniele ham when my friendly local shopkeeper pointed out that there was only a dry and pathetic little piece left… wouldn’t I rather have some pata negra, she asked with concern. Normally buying Spanish ham in Italy might seem crazy… but I know about pata negra, and reader, I said ‘yes please’ to those soft folds of pink.
You may think that this pairing was now as sublime as it could possibly be… but you’d be wrong. There’s a third flavour which raises this salty-sweet marriage up to being a sublimely holy trinity, and that is the rich muskiness of Indonesian long pepper – freshly ground in a pestle and mortar.
I’ve called this recipe Spice Islands ham and melon partly just because it sounds heavenly and exotic, but also because a part of Indonesia (specifically an archipelago within Indonesia known as the Moluccas) used to be known as the Spice Islands – it was where nutmeg, mace and cloves were originally found. However, Indonesian long pepper comes from Java… it’s poetic licence….
As a final experiment you could try pouring in a touch of cointreau or Grand Marnier.
Try it and swoon!