So if I said “Jambon”, what would you think of? You might be thinking “That’s French for ham right?” You would be correct, but I’m not really talking about ham. Perhaps I should’ve said “Irish Jambon”. Ahhh! Now it might be getting clearer. The Irish Jambon is the much beloved, ubiquitous deli offering found in gas stations and convenience stores throughout the Emerald Isle. But what is it? It is puff pastry filled with béchamel sauce, cheese (usually Emmental) and diced ham. Kind of like a Danish pastry but with savory filling rather than fruit. So that is the technical definition. But what you need to know is they are comfort food at its finest!
I first read all about these little delights in that cookbook “Bake” by Graham Herterich that I told you about in the post from a couple of days ago – Malted Coffee, Chocolate & Pecan Brack. He had a recipe for jambons and claimed that they are “now as Irish as soda bread”. I was mystified. I had never once come across a Jambon anywhere at all while I was studying in Ireland. Seems like just the thing a student would’ve lived on. I felt very cheated and when quizzed about them, my Irish friends assure me that I should indeed feel that way. Not to date myself, but i turns out they didn’t actually become widespread and popular in Ireland until the late ’90’s. It’s fairly meteoric rise in popularity is a testament to how addictively good these little dickens are!
Previous to that, quick food on the go wasn’t really a thing in Ireland. However in the 90’s compact bakery ovens became available which allowed petrol stations, small supermarkets and convenience stores to offer “freshly baked” (usually from frozen Cuisine de France) hot items such as croissants, breakfast rolls and jambons from their deli counters.
These jambons were very portable, undeniably tasty and quite economical. I could not wait to taste one, but since I was no longer visiting Ireland by the time I discovered how deprived I’d been, I decided to make my own to tide me over until I could get back there!
My homemade versions are pretty easy to make. Although the authentic ones in Ireland usually use Emmentaler Cheese, I went with a mixture of Kerry Gold Irish Cheddar and Kerry Gold Blarney Cheese, which is a bit like Gouda.
And speaking of Blarney, Blarney Castle is one of the places I visited on my most recent trip to Ireland.
The Husband had never kissed the good old Blarney Stone. For anyone who knows him, I’m sure you’d find that hard to believe. He has already in firm possession of the “gift of gab” as they say. I was worried how even more eloquence for him would play out.
Nevertheless I considered it a must do, so off we went. For those of you who don’t know, the Blarney Stone is a block of limestone built into the battlements of Blarney Castle. Legend has it that if one kisses the stone, which is no easy task, they will be given great eloquence or the skill of flattery or beguiling talk. To get to this magical stone, you have to climb to the top of the castle,
lay down and lean over backwards from the parapets ledge. A bit nerve wracking to say the least!
But let me get back to the Irish Jambons. My homemade Jambons did not disappoint. Crispy crunchy puff pastry filled with a gooey, squidgy cheese sauce that is shot through with salty ham. Chock full of salt and carbs, I can see why they are considered a sure fire hangover cure. Now I’ve just got to get back to Ireland to get the real authentic jambon from a petrol station experience. I’ve been told Centras have the best there are to offer. Until then, these homemade ones will have you addicted and will be just the thing for your pre and post St. Patrick’s Day festivities!
recipe source: a combination of 2 from: Bake: Traditional Irish Baking with Modern Twists by Graham Herterich & National Dairy Council
- 2 sheets puff pastry
- 2 red onions, sliced
- splash extra virgin olive oil
- 1 sprig thyme
- 1 small sprinkling of brown sugar
- 25 grams butter
- 25 grams all purpose flour
- 250 ml milk
- 250 grams cheese, grated – I used a mixture of KerryGold Blarney Cheese which is Gouda like and KerryGold Irish Cheddar. Emmentaler would also be great! But you do you.
- 1 tsp mustard – I used Colemans, but again the choice is yours.
- pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
- freshly ground black pepper and sea salt to taste
- 200 grams ham, cubed
- 1 egg, beaten with a splash of milk
For the caramelized onions:
Preheat the oven to 375 F.
Place the sliced onions, leaves from one sprig of thyme in a bowl. Sprinkle with brown sugar and then add a splash of olive oil. Stir to distribute the oil and sugar.
Slide the onion mixture into an ovenproof casserole. Cook for 30 minutes.
After the initial cook time, stir the onion mixture, cover the casserole and cook for an addition 15 – 20 minutes.
Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
For the Cheese Sauce:
Place the butter in a medium sized sauce pan and melt over low heat.
Slowly whisk in the flour, whisking constantly until a dough begins to form.
Slowly add the milk, whisking the entire time so that there are no lumps in the sauce.
Once all of the milk has been incorporated, add the grated cheese (reserving a bit to sprinkle over the tops of the jambons), the nutmeg and the mustard.
Mix well until you get a smooth, thick cheese sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Add the finely cubed ham to the sauce and stir.
Set the mixture aside and allow it to cool.
Lightly flour your work surface and roll out the pastry. Cut each sheet into 6 equal sized squares.
Place a scoop of the ham/cheese mixture into the center of each square. Place a bit of caramelized onion on top of the cheese.
Fold the four corners of the pastry to the center and pinch them together to seal the contents inside.
Brush the egg wash over the pastry. Sprinkle the reserved cheese over the top, as well as a bit of flaky sea salt.
Repeat for the remaining pastry squares.
Place the jambons on a parchment lined baking tray and bake for 20 minutes or until golden-brown.
Serve hot or room temperature.
Links for Helpful Kitchen Tools & Ingredients for Jambons:
Bake: Traditional Irish Baking with Modern Twists by Graham Herterich – It does not appear that this book is available on Amazon, but you can get it here at the Book Depository. I love this cookbook! Visually it is gorgeous, but it doesn’t rely on looks alone. This book is chock full of fantastic recipes. Graham Herterich, better known in Ireland as the Cupcake Bloke, initially trained as a chef and then went on to open The Bakery in Rialto Dublin. In this, his first cookbook, he offers a traditional recipe followed by a modern twist on that recipe. It also contains a brief history of Irish baking as well as a guide to baking essentials and lesser known ingredients.
Travel Planning Guide:
Getting there: Icelandair! We love Icelandair and have always had great experience with them. Icelandair flies to Dublin, Ireland. Take advantage of their Stopover program on your next flight to Europe.
Car Rental: New Way Car Hire – Love the all-inclusive pricing on these cars as well as the Dublin Airport pickup!
Blarney Castle -Official site. You can book tickets here or when you arrive. The actual castle and stone are of course a big attraction, but the gardens are really lovely as well.
Blarney Woolen Mills – You can’t visit the castle without heading right across the street to do a bit of shopping at the flagship store of Blarney Woolen Mills. This store is HUGE and has everything. Not just sweaters, but china, crystal, homewares – you name it! It is housed in one of Ireland’s oldest and most authentic Irish Woolen Mills. This family owned business is not only brimful of the best Irish designers but also offers their wares at a good price.