Jambon de Paris, also known as Paris-style ham, is a slow-cooked, unsmoked ham traditionally prepared by artisanal butcher shops in Paris—the capital city of France—and its outskirts.
Translated literally from French, Jambon de Paris means “Paris ham” or “the ham of Paris.” It’s pronounced jan·bon du pa·ree.
The leanness, herby scent, and full-bodied flavor of Jambon de Paris are what turns this ham into such an incredibly appetizing—yet forgivingly undemanding—snack on any occasion and at any time of day.
It pairs exceptionally well with French baguette and butter, rustic bread and Dijon mustard, as well as thin-sliced Emmental, Gruyère, Gouda cheese.
Jambon de Paris is the ham of choice for Jambon Beurre and Croque Monsieur sandwiches. However, it can also be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The French often add it to quiches and serve it on meat-and-cheese platters.
My favorite way to enjoy its pleasures is to cut it into thin slices and tuck a generous amount of it between hefty spreads of unsalted French butter on the insides of a halved crusty baguette (Jambon Beurre).
It’s as delightful when covered by melted Gruyère cheese between two pieces of oven-browned rustic bread (Croque Monsieur). Or when cut into thick, 1/4 inch-sized cubes and added to omelets or scrambled eggs.
How Jambon de Paris Is Made
Lean, boneless, and pale-colored, the tender, aromatic, and flavorful Jambon de Paris is always made from pork leg.
The meat for this ham must be fresh and should never be frozen. Freezing will take most of its natural juiciness away and cause the muscle fibers to toughen.
To prepare Jambon de Paris, the bones, veins, and knuckle are removed from the leg of a freshly slaughtered pig. The fat and skin of the meat are kept on. The raw ham is wet-cured for ten days, soaked for a few hours, then slow-simmered till cooked through.
Jambon de Paris is brined in a basic wet cure that consists of water, salt, and sugar.
Depending on the size of the meat and the preferences of the person preparing it, the brining can take anywhere from 10 to 30 days. During that time, the ham is continually refrigerated.
When the curing is over, the ham is soaked in water for 3-4 hours to get rid of the excess salt and tightly tied with butcher’s twine to help it hold on to its shape during cooking.
Next, it’s slow-simmered in an aromatic broth of water and a bouquet garni of thyme, parsley, and bay leaf. The cooking should stop when the skin on the outside catches a golden color and turns gelatinous.
Less-traditional recipes for Jambon de Paris feature additional spices, such as black peppercorn, rosemary, tarragon, and basil, or call for the addition of vegetables, like garlic cloves, white onions, carrots, and celery.
Ideally, Jambon de Paris is cooked in special-purpose rectangular casks. Once done, the ham isn’t immediately taken out of the cooking water: it’s left to cool down and refrigerate overnight instead.
This method takes at least eleven days to complete when done properly, with the necessary amount of patience. It yields a ham that’s succulently moist and delicately briny, quite different from the dry and over-salted hams that come out of dry curing.
Most pieces of Jambon de Paris weigh approximately 5-6 pounds, have a distinctive elongated shape, and are sold vacuum-sealed.
Opening and Slicing Jambon de Paris
Open Jambon de Paris by carefully cutting along the plastic seal—making sure to not cut through the meat—and slowly pulling the ham out of its packaging.
It’s best to do this in your kitchen sink. The packaging can, and often does, carry a splattering amount of natural juices from the meat.
Slice the ham thinly with the skin by cutting it crosswise or remove the skin from the whole piece of meat first by gradually peeling it off with the help of an appropriately-sized butcher’s knife.
Storing Jambon de Paris
Unopened and continuously refrigerated, Jambon de Paris will stay good for up to 6 months. Once opened, it will last for 3 to 5 days when sliced and 2 to 3 weeks when whole.
To maximize the shelf life of this ham, re-seal leftover pieces of it in a vacuum. If you don’t have the means to do so, wrap them tightly in butcher paper before storing them in the fridge.
Where to Buy Jambon de Paris
If you live outside of Paris, Jambon de Paris can be notoriously tricky to find. It’s a local Parisian delicacy and a well-kept secret of the French, with only a select number of butchers outside of France aware of what exactly it is (and how to make it).
If you live in the United States, American charcuterie company Les Trois Petits Cochons (Three Little Pigs) out of Greenwich Village in New York has generally got you covered. They make Petit Jambon de Paris, which in my humble opinion is one of the best Paris hams you could buy in the country.
Canadians have it somewhat easier: quite a few charcuterie companies and butcher shops in the French part of Canada make Paris-style ham. When shopping online, do consider Madrange Jambon de Paris.
Substitutes for Jambon de Paris
One of the best substitutes for Jambon de Paris is its Italian cousin, Prosciutto Cotto. Like Jambon de Paris, Proscuitto Cotto is a ham made from the deboned back leg of a pig and slow-cooked in herby brine.
More often than not, Proscuitto Cotto is sold sliced. However, you may prefer to head on over to the Italian deli or market in town and look for a whole piece; they’re significantly juicier and retain more of the ham’s original flavor.
As a rule of thumb, any cooked and unsmoked ham that hasn’t been overly salted or excessively seasoned can act as a substitute for Jambon de Paris.
Still, whenever you have the option, stick to tradition. This is by far one of the best-tasting hams you’ll ever bite into.