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Monday 6 May 2013

Menu from Waitrose Ham Hock & Camembert Crepes

For anyone beginning to doubt my carnivorous credentials, I should point out that I'm not suddenly turning into a vegetarian just because I'm going out with one. If we eat out, I'll still have something meaty and it's just for the sake of convenience that we eat vegetarian at other times.

I mean, hell, if I can barely be bothered to cook one proper meal for myself, you can't expect me to cook two different meals now, surely?

And so, without even a "don't call me Shirley!" joke (oh, damn!), we have one of my most recent spur-of-the-moment purchases. It kinda helps that 'ham hock' seems to be the in thing, and thereby ubiquitous, in just about all the supermarkets at the moment (not sure it's quite penetrated Iceland, but I think we're all aware of my feelings toward certain kinds of Iceland meat products). Mostly, you'll just see packs of plain ham hock, ready to add into some elaborate main course, or ham hock in some kind of fancy sauce, so it was rather a surprise to see a full, light dish featuring ham hock in my local Waitrose's 'cheap introductory samplers' endcap. I'm a big fan of crepes (or 'pancakes' to those of us who aren't into pretentiously Euroticising our foodstuffs), though normally only the sweet ones... perhaps it was about time I gave savoury a chance.

My only worry, before I had them, was the Camembert angle. I'm not big on cheese, and have been known to give things a wide berth if they contain any cheese I'm not familiar with (which would be... erm... Cheddar, Mozzarella, Edam, Brie, Feta... that processed stuff you get in burgers... and not much else. Maybe Gouda at a push. Oh, and Halloumi) so the prospect of Camembert was at once enticingly exotic and alarmingly for'n. The fact that one side of the packaging described its contents as 'creamy ham hock & camembert crepes' gave me that little bit more confidence and so, in a fit of pique, I decided to try them out.

The first thing to note is that crepes are notoriously difficult to cook in an oven, be it traditional or microwave. Something about them just loves to bond unbreakably to the surface upon which it is cooked, so it's no surprise that the instructions mention - perhaps a little casually - that "Placing foil onto a baking tray prevents crepes from sticking to the base". Of course, no mention is made of the precautions one should take to prevent crepes from sticking to the foil, but perhaps that's beside the point.

The second thing to note is that the sprinkling of smoked Cheddar and herbs on the top will naturally have a tendency to migrate away from the crepes, and I found it rather difficult to separate it from the packaging so I could sprinkle it back where it was meant to be. That which I could scrape away from the plastic seemed to melt all-too-readily in the heat from my fingers, and so became rather unwilling to be 'sprinkled' anywhere. Seems like a shame, but that's the way it goes, I guess.

So, after a mere fifteen minutes in the oven, these parcels of creamy, cheesy ham had a very sparse, very crisp layer of cheddar on top, and had basically glued themselves to the foil. There's no way to separate them keeping the crepe intact, so don't even try... Though I did wonder, dimly, in retrospect, if a little oil might have helped.

Still, they're going to be opened up sooner or later, so the fact that they were served up already spilling their luscious contents all over my plate was hardly a problem.

Now, perhaps my expectations were hopelessly off target, but I'd rather expected the ham in something like this to be salty. Not full-on bacon salty, maybe not even gammon steak salty... but the shredded ham in these was exceptionally mild. It added more texture than flavour to the rich, creamy créme fraîche sauce and, since I'm no expert on cheese, I probably wouldn't recognise Camembert if it declared my fridge an Independent Republic of Free Cheeses. Suffice it to say, the sauce pretty much overloaded everything for the first few bites. Even the spinach barely registered though, having been cooked inside the crepes, it was well and truly softened and so had lost much of its texture and bite. When it came to the very last portion, I did find the saltiness I had expected from ham, and it actually made a pleasant counterpoint to the almost excessive creaminess of the sauce.

On balance, I can recommend this... but wonder if cooking longer, at a lower temperature might be better for the crepe (or would that dry it out more?). I'm also sorely tempted to get a pack of plain ham hock and attempt to make something like this myself, not least so I can use freshly-made pancakes that don't go crispy, as I'm sure that would be the correct way of serving a dish like this. I'd probably dial down on the créme fraîche, too.

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