When life gives you a leg of prosciutto di Parma, forgo purchasing a meat slicer (like that was even an option) and instead learn how to hand-slice it.
Left: My prosciutto di Parma resting before its journey to the states; right: Taking up too much space in the office fridge.
Raise your hand if you have a meat slicer.
Yeah, didn’t think so. There is a chance, though, that you might have a leg of prosciutto—either purchased when you decided the cured ham was the best thing you could ever eat (sorry, bacon) or gifted to you by your favorite uncle or wedding guest. Or, in my case, you smuggled prosciutto di Parma back from Italy. (T.S.A., please understand that I was just trying to impress my team. Don’t fine me. Can I give you slices of prosciutto?)
I will hand-slice this prosciutto, which, according to Lou Di Palo, who runs the Italian speciality foods store Di Palo’s and wrote the guide to Italian food, is the best way to slice prosciutto. “There’s nothing like getting it sliced by knife,” Lou told me when I visited his Italian emporium he’s run with his brother and sister for the past forty years.
Legs curing at Pio Tosini Prosciuttificio in Parma, Italy, with the saltier hip at the bottom, since the salt is moving south.
Why's it so great? For starters, you don't have to buy a fancy slicing contraption. But really, because of the way prosciutto hangs when it’s curing, the part closest to the foot end is sweet and tender whereas the part closer to the hip is saltier. With hand slicing, you get a cross section of all the flavors available. When a machine slices the meat, you’ll get an exclusively sweet or exclusively salty part—not the rainbow.
Luckily, hand slicing is something that can be done at home. Lou is here to guide the way.
Here’s how to go about it:
1. Grab a knife—the right one.
First, pick your knife—this is very important! You want a thin, very sharp, long knife—one you might use to carve a turkey. Do not even think about using a serrated knife because you want your slices of prosciutto to be smooth.
2. Get rid of the skin.
Start by cutting the skin off the part of the leg you plan to slice. Leave the rest of the skin on to deal with during your next slicing session. You can use that discarded skin as you would lard or pancetta—in a pot of soup or beans, for instance.
3. Hold onto your leg.
Do you have a morsa? It’s this contraption used to prop your prosciutto up while you slice. I don’t have one hanging around my Brooklyn-sized apartment, but Lou said I can just hold it by the foot end with my non-dominant hand.
4. Start slicing.
That’s all there is to it: Start high up on the leg and work against the grain to get slices that are as evenly thin as possible. Lou said thinness is more important than uniformity, and we preferred getting small pieces that are thin as opposed to long pieces that are thicker. But, with time and patience, we’re shooting for thin, long, perfectly flat slices. Somehow Lou thinks we can do it.
Personally, I'm happy with my little slices:
Should you freeze the leg before slicing?
Some on the Hotline said freezing the leg before slicing would help achieve even slices. Lou feared this would affect the tenderness of the meat and instead encouraged us to simply leave the leg in the fridge—to help with slicing but also to keep it good to eat for a long time to come.
How should you store it?
Your leg will keep for a very long time, since it’s a cured product. You just need to store it properly:
- Wrap it in wax paper, then foil. You could also use cheesecloth instead of wax paper. The key is to allow the leg to still breathe, so avoid a plastic bag.
- Keep the wrapped leg in the fridge. Monitor it every week and change the wrapping each time.
- If you see mold, don’t worry! Just trim it off (you could also scratch it off, but trimming ensures that the mold hasn’t penetrated the meat below).
Do you have any other tips for slicing prosciutto? We need to know how to eat all this prosciutto, for starters.
Photos by the editors, except last photo by Emiko Davies.