In the mind’s eye, the baked ham undertaken at home reflects on its skin a cheesy shiny glint, nearly an artificial and plastic-looking countenance, a product of minimum sophmoric effort. Against the backdrop of a red and white checked apron of a faceless cook, bracketed by her pale, tender-strong arms, the ham is typically insipid in taste when attempted by the home cook for the holidays. For this reason, against this terrain, HoneyBaked Ham fills a gaping, unsatisfied void in our desire by its decidedly expert sugar-cure fix as an antidote for ham’s frequent mediocrity. Home cooks (and chefs) have thrown their collective hands up in the pursuit of a worthwhile ham creation due to Honeybaked’s convincing domain, but one wonders what mystery shopper keeps raw ham in rotation enough to keep gammon’s most prized attribute stocked on supermarket shelves.
It’s the chef of rare obsession that hates the wasted potential of any able ingredient. The heartful chef considers the preparation of any ingredient tenable if the ingredient has ever been considered to be any good by anyone.
Star Provisions is a talent-packed, -charged, -driven outfit whose kitchens, including Bacchanalia and Quinones, are immediately ennobled with elite status at their very points of incarnation. Floataway Cafe is Bacchanalia’s sister restaurant, a more casual, but just as precision-oriented, light-original gesture as its flagship. That mother of all Atlanta’s fine dining restaurants pridefully distends its meritorious octopal arm in loving support of its sibling’s subtle glory.
Credit is given to former Chef de Cuisine Greg Dunmore for one Slow-Roasted Porchetta with Fresh Peas served at Floataway in the early 2000’s (featured in the book, Atlanta Cooks, 2001). However, the Chef de Cuisine position is traditionally defined as one which carries out the head chef’s vision. For the purpose of this article, the recipe will be nominally referred to as Floataway’s recipe, as opposed to being the intellectual property of any individual chef.
Floataway’s Porchetta starts as nothing but a ham, bone-in and skin intact. Special is its thorough brining: one cup of salt per gallon, soaked three days, with a change of water daily.
There is nothing traditional about brining a ham. Ham is of the Gallic heritage, the Gauls having been prolific pig breeders, responsible for the innovation of the modern process of salting, smoking, and curing. They practiced a barbecuer’s hobbying passion in their treatment of ham, varying the woods they used to achieve different smoke essences. They rubbed the meat with oil and vinegar and hung up the meat to dry and everything! One can imagine tuniced men of the age swilling from animal-skinned decanters around their beloved meat, the way suburban men joke and jive around their backyard grills.
Back to the year 2001, the Floataway cook removes the ham from the brine and lets it dry. He rubs a spice mix of fennel seeds, red pepper, garlic, and salt into the slits that have been cut into the ham, nearly one inch apart. The slits are through the fat, just to the meat, the usual design for a clove-sticking. The Floataway chef recognizes fennel’s potential in succeeding the pork product forward, and spice and piquanterie are the profile chosen most likely by Chef Dunmore, the Floataway’s gastro-wizard of the time.
The usual ham sequence is to simmer the meat in a basic broth, to roast it, or to adopt a braising-roasting technique for thorough cooking, ideal color, and lightly crusted texture. Floataway’s ham will become something they name Porchetta by way of low slow roasting. The inventive name, Porchetta, comes from an actual Breton specialty called Porche, based on pig’s trotters, bones, and rinds flavored with condiments and sorrel. Floataway roasts the ham-cum-porchetta at 500 degrees for about an hour, then further in a reduced 250 degree oven for another 10 hours. The Breton Porche was similarly cooked overnight in a baker’s oven.
A one-time “baste” combination of lemon juice and olive oil is poured over the ham before its long night of hot tenderizing love with the endgame being the meat falling off the bone, putting porchetta in the slow-roast family of barbecue brisket and pork belly. Floataway finds peas to be a neat accompaniment to porchetta, and blanches the peas, mixing them with a vinaigrette of lemon juice, shallots, olive oil, and salt and pepper. Floatway calls this their pea vinaigrette.
The Floataway chef’s mind is an inventive, clinical one whose offerings illustrate the kind of prodigy that inspires diners to wonder how this or that dish came into being. It’s the partnership of original process and quaint, clean presentation that guarantees Floataway’s reputation as a place where one eats a dish of such a characteristic that could never be replicated at home; and this is the reason for the existence of the option of eating out.