Choosing Bacon, Gammon And Ham

For centuries, pork has been ‘cured’ with salt to preserve it. As bacon, gammon and ham, it is still very popular in Britain. Grilled or fried, served roasted, braised or boiled, cuts of bacon combine good flavour and food value with cheapness. There is little waste and the cooking water after boiling makes excellent stock.

What to look for

Just under half the bacon we eat comes from home-bred pigs; much is imported from Ireland, Denmark and other countries. Most bacon is cured ‘Wiltshire’ style. The pig, other than the head, feet, bones and offal, is lightly cured in a salt brine as two ‘sides’ for about two weeks.

  • When taken out of the brine, the bacon is ‘green’, with a delicate flavour and pink flesh. Later it may be smoked to preserve it even longer. Smoked bacon has a stronger, saltier flavour.
  • Bacon is most often sold in rashers. Gammon is the leg of the bacon, cured with the rest of the side; ham is also leg, cured to the local recipe.
  • Back Most often cut in rashers but sometimes sold as a joint, boned and rolled for baking or boiling. Look for lean, long back rashers for grilling; middle or through-cut, sold as rashers or in the piece, and prime back, for frying or grilling in rashers or braising or boiling in the piece. Bacon chops come from this cut and can be fried, grilled or braised.
  • Collar An inexpensive cut from the neck. Soak before cooking and serve it hot or cold as a joint.
  • Forehock The whole foreleg, and one of the cheaper bacon joints. Often cut into the butt and foreslipper, both excellent for boiling, and small hock, a tough cut which should be casseroled, boned.
  • Gammon An expensive cut, usually sold in four joints: corner, middle, hock and slipper. The large rounded rashers usually come from middle gammon; all joints can be boiled or baked.
  • Streaky Sold in rashers, this is the cured equivalent of belly pork. Fry or grill it; use it to cover (bard) poultry and game when roasting.
  • Ham The hindleg of the pig, cut when it is still fresh pork. There are many different cures: look for York ham, a mild-flavoured, very delicate meat, or the rarer Bradenham and Suffolk cures. Every country has different ways of treating ham: Virginia ham comes from pigs fed on peanuts and peaches; Kentucky from hogs fed on wild acorns and clover. From Europe come hams which are often eaten raw as the first course in a meal.