WHENEVER someone new arrives to work in one of our kitchens, my first question for them is, what does their family like to cook? – what dish would their mum typically prepare for them if they went home?
From the answer, you can sense a lot about their appreciation for good home-cooked food and also about their background and culture. Some of our team come from Scotland, but others come from further afield. I always love to find out about the cuisine they’ve grown up with and it often gives me new ideas for recipes and dishes.
One of my team, Marcin, is from Konin in Poland. He’s has been with me for some time at The Kitchin, but since opening our gastro pub, The Scran & Scallie, he has joined our head chef David and the team in the kitchen there. On a few occasions, he’s told me about what he would typically enjoy at home with his family. I asked him to cook one of his favourite dishes from home, and he introduced me to a wonderful Polish ham dish. I enjoyed the dish so much, that we’ve now adapted it and put it on our menu at The Scran & Scallie. There’s a real Polish connection in Edinburgh and you can now find lots of regional foods in specialist delis across the city.
When it comes to traditional Polish cooking, there are many similarities with other Central European cuisine, and also with French and Italian food. The diet is very rich in meat, often cured meat, as well as seasonal vegetables, noodles and spices.
We home-cure our ham at The Scran & Scallie and serve it as an appetite-whetting starter presented on a big sharing platter, or as a main dish with fresh eggs and seasonal vegetables. It’s wonderfully tender and the curing gives it a superbly sweet, yet salty flavour that just melts in your mouth.
Even if you don’t have the means to cure your own, ham is a wonderful addition to many dishes from breakfast to dinner. The best starting point is to source some good quality meat from a trusted local deli or butcher. Ham is a cut of pork that’s taken from a pig’s upper hind leg. It tends to be found cooked or dry cured and ready for eating and you will usually find it sold in slices.
The key to finding a good supplier is to locate one that has sourced the meat from a strong breed and quality of pig, who will have cooked the meat on the bone and who will have hand-carved it, as this will mean you get the right texture and flavour from the meat. You can buy ham either dry-salted or cured in brine, and it can either be air dried or smoked, which will also affect the taste you get. It really depends on your own personal taste, but most good delis, farmers’ markets or butchers will give you a bit of guidance on the level of saltiness and smokiness based on your preference.
When it comes to flavour matches, nothing beats a traditional combination of ham and eggs, but I like to give it my own modern twist. The eggs really balance out the saltiness of the ham and the textures complement one another perfectly.
Whatever you try it with, I thoroughly recommend getting your hands on some Polish ham. And while you’re enjoying it with your friends, I suggest you ask them about their mum’s signature dish – you never know what it will inspire you to try.
• Home-cured ham, egg and autumn vegetables
• 12 small slices of cured ham
• 2 soft boiled eggs
• 500g baby new potatoes
• 2 carrots, peeled and halved lengthways
• 400g pumpkin, peeled and chopped
• 100g kale
• 3 tbsp of olive oil
(You can use any selection of roasted autumn vegetables, such as pumpkin, squash, kale, carrot, celeriac, sauerkraut, new potatoes)
For the beurre blanc sauce
• ½ shallot, sliced
• 150ml dry white wine
• 2 tbsp white wine vinegar
• 250g butter
• 40ml cream
To make the beurre blanc
Bring the chopped shallot, white wine vinegar and white wine to the boil and then reduce the heat until the mixture is simmering, then continue to simmer until dry. Reduce the heat to low, and add the cream before bringing back to the boil. Reduce the heat again and gradually whisk in the butter until melted into the mixture.
Remove the mixture from the heat and strain it through a fine sieve into a clean saucepan. Season with salt and pepper and stir. Set aside at room temperature until needed (do not refrigerate as the sauce will separate).
For the ham and eggs
Take the ham and simmer gently in a pan for 2-3 hours. Place the chopped baby new potatoes, carrot and pumpkin into a roasting tin and pour 3 tbsp of the oil over them, scatter and roll the vegetables in the oil then season with salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for around 45 minutes.
For the chopped kale, put in a pan of water 1cm deep with a pinch of salt, then bring to the boil and simmer for up to 5 minutes until wilted; drain thoroughly.
When almost ready, take a pan of water which will cover the eggs by about 1cm, then bring to the boil. When boiling, gently add the 2 eggs into the water and reduce to a simmer for 7 minutes. Remove the shells and cut in half.
Plate the vegetables and add thinly sliced ham, topped with half a boiled egg each. Pour over the beurre blanc to taste.
• Eggs en Cocotte
• 100g button mushrooms
• 100g cured ham
• 100g broad beans
• 250g fresh spinach
• 2 tsp olive oil
• 4 free-range eggs
For the Mornay sauce
• 60g butter
• 60g plain flour
• 1 litre milk
• 4 gratings of nutmeg
• salt and pepper
• 100g Mull Cheddar, grated
To make the Mornay sauce
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and add the flour. Whisk over a low heat for 2-3 minutes until there are no lumps. Bring the milk to the boil with a little grated nutmeg and pour it over the cooked roux. Bring to the boil and cook for 10 minutes, stirring gently. Season, pass through a sieve and stir in the grated cheese.
To prepare the vegetables and ham
Wipe the mushrooms and cut them into quarters. Cut the ham into 1cm strips and sauté together with mushrooms for 3 to 4 minutes.
Pod the broad beans and blanch them for 1 minute in boiling salted water. Refresh them in a bowl of iced water and then peel off the tough outer skins.
Wash the spinach and dry on some paper towels. Heat the olive oil in a medium pan, add the spinach and a pinch of salt, and cook until the spinach is wilted.
Assembling the dish
Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4. You will need four ovenproof dishes.
Place some spinach in each dish and cover with Mornay sauce. Crack an egg on top, sprinkle with broad beans and ham, and season with salt and pepper.
Put the dishes in a baking tin, pour in boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the dishes and bake for 8-10 minutes. The yolks should still be soft. Serve straight from the oven. The dishes will be piping hot, so place them on a plate.