Ham and biscuits mean happy guests

 , The New York Times  |  Updated: December 11, 2013 15:38 IST

Ham and biscuits mean happy guests
Are you ever still famished when you get home from a holiday party?

Here's an idea for when it's your turn to host: Set out a pile of little sandwiches. They are simple, tasty and substantial. When I was growing up, it was mini rye bread rounds or tiny bagels with chopped liver or creamed herring or smoked salmon - still a very good solution. (Not exactly what Santa's elves might want, but hey, you never know.)

However, when I conjure my inner Southerner, a diminutive warm biscuit filled with thinly sliced ham is what I crave, and it is always a crowd-pleaser.

My version exposes me as a Yankee impostor, since it's not made with real country ham. Instead, I use a brine-cured pork tenderloin, which is like a very small ham. Sometimes I even skip the tenderloin and use prosciutto or Spanish jamón.

It takes planning, but brining the meat is no trouble. As easy as it is to cure a larger cut (a picnic ham from the shoulder or a real ham from the leg), it is even easier to cure pork tenderloin, which conveniently has the same diameter as a biscuit.

The only trick with pork tenderloin, since it is very lean, is to take care not to overcook it, so it stays moist. Baking it in a covered dish on a bed of onions with a splash of white wine helps. You get a lot of servings from one tenderloin, but you may as well make several. That way you'll have plenty for the party and leftovers for the following week.

Biscuits are easy to make, too, as long as you follow two basic rules: don't overwork the dough, and have the oven hot. I use a recipe for buttermilk biscuits from an early mentor of mine, Jo Rooney, a wonderful home cook I met years ago in Bakersfield, Calif.Jo could have a batch of tender biscuits ready in no time. Rather than double the recipe, she always said it was better to make another batch while the first one was baking. That way there's a constant flow of hot biscuits.

Aside from sliced ham, you need just sweet butter and mustard. For more authenticity, mix them together to make mustard butter, adding a little brown sugar.

This is true party fare, impossible to resist. You can be certain your guests will not leave hungry.

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Miniature home cured 'ham'

Adapted from "In The Charcuterie," by Taylor Boetticher and Toponia Miller (Ten Speed Press, 2013)
Time: 5 days' brining, plus 1 hour for prep and cooking
Yield: 4 pounds cured pork tenderloin, about 24 servings

1 cup kosher salt

1 cup sugar

12 cups boiling water

1 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

1/2 teaspoon allspice berries

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon curing salt (sel rose)

1 cup dry white wine for brine, plus 1/2 cup for cooking

4 pork tenderloins, about 1 pound each

2 medium onions, thinly sliced

1 small bunch fresh thyme

1. Put salt and sugar into a large nonreactive bowl (stainless steel or glass). Add boiling water and stir well to dissolve salt and sugar. Add peppercorns, mustard seeds, allspice berries, cloves, thyme and bay leaves. Allow to cool completely.

2. Add curing salt and 1 cup white wine to cooled brine. Submerge pork tenderloins in brine. Place a plate directly on top of pork to keep it submerged if necessary. Cover container and refrigerate for 5 days.

3. Remove pork from brine and pat dry. Discard brine. Spread onions and thyme sprigs on bottom of a large shallow baking dish. Add brined tenderloins in one layer, then add 1/2 cup wine. Heat oven to 350 degrees; as it heats, bring meat to room temperature. Cover dish and bake for 45 minutes or until pork registers 135 degrees with an instant-read thermometer. Remove from oven (meat will continue to cook and reach 140 degrees as it rests). Let cool before cutting into thin slices. Serve with buttermilk biscuits. May be refrigerated, well wrapped, for up to 1 week.


Jo rooney's buttermilk biscuits

Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 16 to 18 biscuits

260 grams all-purpose flour (about 2 cups)

8 grams baking powder (2 teaspoons)

1 1/2 grams baking soda (1/2 teaspoon)

3 grams kosher salt (1 teaspoon)

6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, lard or shortening

1 cup buttermilk

3 tablespoons melted butter, for brushing

1. In a mixing bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut butter into small chunks. Use your fingers to work butter into flour mixture until mixture has texture of coarse sand with a few stray pebbles.

2. Make a well in center of mixture and add buttermilk. Stir in circular motion with a fork until dough forms a rough ball. Dough will seem a bit moist and sticky. Turn out onto a floured board, dust top lightly with flour, then knead until smooth, about 1 minute.

3. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Gently roll or pat dough to 1/2-inch thickness. Using a biscuit cutter, cut dough into 2-inch-diameter circles. Alternatively, use a sharp knife to cut dough into diamond shapes. Pat scraps together and form a few more biscuits (these scrappy ones will be somewhat less tender). Place 1 inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet. Prick each biscuit with tines of fork and brush lightly with melted butter. Bake until nicely browned, 10 to 12 minutes. Serve warm.

Note: Measurements for dry ingredients are given by weight for greater accuracy. The equivalent measurements by volume are approximate.

© 2013 New York Times News Service


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