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Cooking in hay?

I have a dim glimmer of a memory of a description of meat cooked (in? on? under?) hay. I think it was a large piece of meat and some sort of harvest thing. That's all I can remember. Does this ring any bells? I have a source of lovely fragrant hay.

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  1. Might it have been meat cooked in a pit? Weren't animals slaughtered in the winter time to provide food for the oncoming frozen months?

    When they cook a whole pig in Hawaii, they put it in a pit and the top covering is usually some kind of vegetation. Maybe this is what you're thinking about?

    1. I really can't imagine any thing being cooked with hay unless in a very low oxygen environment because hay burns so quickly you'd need an awful lot of hay.

      1 Reply
      1. re: KTinNYC

        that's why I was thinking maybe the hay was used on top to insulate a pit

      2. Rabbit cooked in hay is quite common.

        1. One of the cookbooks I own states that 17th century recipes recommend poaching ham in water and hay to tenderize them. The editor says this claim is questionable, bu that fresh hay does give a sweet and appealing fragrance to the meat. Any mild-tasting smoked or salted cut of pork would work.

          Ideally your hay will have been recently cut and dried in the sun, otherwise use alfalfa hay purchased from pet shops (alfalfa hay is the sweetest). You need about 1/2 pound of hay to completely envelope a ham; shake it out but not necessary to wash it. Soak the ham overnight in cold water, then dry it.

          Put a layer of hay on the bottom of the pot you're going to poach the ham in. Add the ham and cover it with more hay. Pour in cold water to cover; cover partially with a lid and gradually heat until the water starts to tremble. Set the heat to just below a simmer, allowing 20 minutes poaching time per pound after the water reaches the simmering point. The ham is done when the internal temp reaches 160 degrees F. Let the ham cool in the pot until it is cool enough to handle. Serve it hot or cold.

          I have another recipe from Paul Bocuse's French Cooking which also adds a sprig of thyme, two bay leaves, 6 whole cloves, and 10 juniper berries to the pot prepared as described above, and calls for poaching the smoked ham (that has been soaked overnight in cold water to cover) at a constant temperature of 180F for 15 minutes to the pound.

          I've never tried this technique, nor tasted ham cooked in hay. Let us know how it turned out.

          1 Reply
          1. re: janniecooks

            This sounds closest to what I think I remember. The lamb also sounds good. Thanks!

          2. On River Cottage, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall cooks a leg of lamb wrapped in hay. I can't remember which episode though I think it might've been season 2-3. Supposedly the hay helps insulate the meat during a long slow roast.

            2 Replies
            1. re: rockfish42

              Hmm - I'm not sure about insulation... unless it's a huge, huge bundle. The hay is there as a flavoring agent. Obviously hay is quite flammable and if you had something hot enough to burn the meat it will certainly be hot enough to burn hay. If you're trying to insulate something for looong slow cooking (like a pig in the ground) you would use banana leaves or burlap soaked in water.

              1. re: HaagenDazs

                Just rewatched the segment, his claim is that the hay adds flavor and acts as insulation. The tradition in England at least stems from packing meat in hay lined wooden boxes during transport to hunting parties that were popular in the 19th century. One note to make if someone wants to try this at home, make sure you tuck the hay in to avoid stray bits catching on fire which I'd imagine would be unpleasant. He also covers the whole shebang with a double layer of aluminum foil.

            2. Michel Guerard's *Cuisine Minceur* book has a recipe for leg of milk-fed baby lamb baked in hay. Here's a summary:

              1. Place a large fistful of fresh hay on the bottom of an oval cast-iron Dutch oven.
              2. Salt and pepper the lamb and set it on the hay.
              3. Cover the lamb with another large fistful of hay. Add 125 ml (1/2 cup) water.
              4. Cover the pot and either simmer on the stovetop or bake in a preheated 220ºC (425ºF) oven for about 40 minutes.
              5. While the lamb is cooking, in a small saucepan heat 175 ml (3/4 cup) degreased juices from a lamb roast. Off the heat, add 5 ml (1 teaspoon) chopped fresh tarragon and 2 chopped mint leaves. Let infuse. Reheat just before serving.
              6. Slice the lamb parallel to the bone. Season with salt and pepper. Serve the sauce separately in a sauceboat. Serve with a gratin of eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes.

              A few notes:
              - Milk-fed (i.e. suckling) lamb is a pink meat, in many ways closer to veal than to mutton. A leg should weigh about 1 kg (2.2 lb), which explains the short cooking time.
              - Guerard's hay comes from the fields around Les Prés d'Eugénie, his spa in southwest France, and contains aromatic flowers, grasses and wild herbs. Using New England hay, you might want to add a little fresh thyme, savory, bay, etc. to the mix.
              - If you don't happen to have any roast lamb juices lying around, you can substitute broth that you've reduced or fresh tomato purée sauce (a light sauce made with tomatoes, shallots, garlic, chicken broth, olive oil and a bouquet garni).
              - An e-friend once told me of a similar dish he once ate in a London restaurant. That was made with more mature lamb and slow-roasted in a sealed wooden crate packed with fresh-cut hay. He said the meat was succulent and tender and haunted with the flavour of the hay.

              1 Reply
              1. re: carswell

                Hm, I have a shoulder roast from a more mature lamb. Fistfuls of hay, a heavy enameled cast-iron pot, low oven is how I'm thinking. My hay is aromatic with flowers, shall add some herbs. Thanks so much, will post when I get around to trying it.

              2. I've cooked ham in hay (actually, it was a smaller smoked "jarret" or ham shank - the foreleg - versus a larger thigh or picnic shoulder) and it turned out quite well. I followed a fairly simple, rudimentary technique of simply lining an enameled cast iron (or comparable) covered pot/dutch oven with a bed of hay (not straw!), laying the cured ham on top, covering it with more hay (enough to keep the ham just cosy enough - perhaps an inch thickness or so of hay all around), and then filling the pot with water enough to cover ham and hay. Bring the whole gently to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook the lot on the stove top until your ham is tender (timing depending entirely on the size of your ham). It's a very simple preparation - I added no additional herbs or other aromatics the first time round - but the hay lent a lovely, grassy note to the meat.

                This technique is an old one, and the primary purpose of the hay is to help leach some of the salt out of the ham. Indeed, my shank had only the slightest bit of salt remaining, allowing the meat itself, the "haminess", to really come through. It was tender, sweet, herbaceous, and only lightly salted. Served with some simmered white beans and garlic breadcrumbs, it made a delightful supper.

                I'm fortunate in that a few butchers where I live (including my favorite pork purveyor) retail small bundles of hay in the shop. The suggestion for pet store-grade alfalfa is a good one, unless you can secure some sweet hay from another good source in your area. Likewise, the suggestions for adding aromatics to your hay - and other serving tips - sound excellent.

                I also remember Martha Stewart once publishing an Easter recipe for ham baked on a bed of grass, but unless you live near a meadow, I'd worry about the quality of the grass in my nearby park. Ham with a note of dog whizz and a distinct aftertaste of car exhaust. Non, merci.

                2 Replies
                1. re: lait cru

                  «the primary purpose of the hay is to help leach some of the salt out of the ham»

                  Interesting. Of course, with uncured leggolamb, the purpose is to perfume the meat.

                  «a few butchers where I live (including my favorite pork purveyor) retail small bundles of hay in the shop»

                  Names please.

                  1. re: carswell

                    I have just watched a documentary on Paul Bocuse on Youtube (I found this thread while doing more research) and I think it might be helpful. The video is viewable here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a8UFQ1... and the part about the ham in hay begins at 6:48 minutes into the video and (with a short interruption) ends at 8:37. It seems that he simmers the ham in a huge pot with hay and mint or tarragon. It also appears that they cover the ham with water. This is definitely something I am going to try.

                2. I think the Two Fat Ladies did a recipe (chicken?) involving hay. I also found this, but I don't remember one of the ladies being called "Heston Blumenthal" :

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: DeppityDawg

                    Heston Blumenthal is one of the UK's top Michelin star chefs and owner of The Fat Duck -- awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree for what he doesn't like called molecular gastronomy. http://www.fatduck.co.uk/
                    I had some slow-cooked baby pig baked in hay earlier this week, delicious. I may try lamb baked in hay- quite a few recipes for that online, eg

                  2. The spontaneous combustion temperature for hay is somewhere around 175 degrees.
                    Careful you don't burn the house or barn down while cooking dinner.

                    1. I have the same glimmer of a memory - but it does ot match any of the descriptions here. It might have been on a BBQ program years ago. Seems to me that they made a nest of hay on a BBQ, plopped in a steak and covered with more hay.
                      The BBQ (grill) was set for indirect heat and the hay smoldered, adding a heady smoky component. Later, the burned hay was simply scraped off.

                      I've been meaning to give this a try myself, but never got around to it...

                      1. I have a cookbook from 1977 on my shelf (well, okay, in a stack on the floor by my full shelves, which is another post), called "Paul Bocuse's French Cooking". I've never made anything from it. But it has a recipe called Jambon au foin (Ham in Hay), which basically involves boiling a ham in water full of spices and hay. Which implies to me that the hay serves a flavor-related purpose, at least in this case.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: weem

                          Bingo! That is the recipe. Would you mind elaborating???

                          1. re: swiss_chef

                            Oops, sorry, I should have appended that to your post above.

                            Okay, after a careful review of the recipe-posting guidelines, here goes an ingredient list and a paraphrase:

                            -6-pound smoked ham, lightly cured
                            -1/2 pound excellent hay, fresh or dry
                            -sprig thyme
                            -2 bay leaves
                            -6 cloves
                            -10 juniper berries

                            Soak the ham overnight in water to remove the salt. Simmer, completely covered in water, the ham, hay, and spices, about fifteen minutes per pound. Remove the skin, carve and serve. It says the ham can be served hot or cold, and the accompanying photo shows it served on a bed of fresh hay.

                        2. An episode of "The Duchess of Duke Street" has Louisa Leyton Trotter using the hay trick - bringing food in heavy iron pans to high heat and packing them in covered boxes filled with hay to cook the food with residual heat. Think of it as a portable brick oven....

                          1. I actually found this question as I was looking for a source for alfalfa hay to try to duplicate a delicious ribeye "Cowboy" steak served at Tart, a restaurant in Los Angeles on Fairfax Avenue across from the Farmer's Market. If you're in the area, go there and try it .... it is 24 oz and unless you can eat a huge amount of meat, you'll need to split it. The steak is not on the menu .... you have to ask for it. I am going to look for the hay .... any ideas of where to get it??

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: andrea802

                              In my post above I mentioned that alfalfa hay can be purchased from pet shops - according to my source book. I've never actually looked for it.

                            2. Fergus Henderson's "Nose to Tail Cooking" and Hugh Fearnly Whittingstall's "Meat" cookbooks have recipes for ham in hay; we tried the Henderson recipe yesterday, quite good. Hay is used both for insulation and flavor. It calls for an uncured ham that is brined for 12 days.

                              1. Chris Cosentino has cooked ham in hay at his restaurant Incanto in SF. He documented it in a few different tweets on his twitter page several weeks ago. You can can get a peek at the photos if you scroll back. @offalchris

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Shane Greenwood

                                  I have a Gascon recipe somewhere which uses hay in roasting goose, if anyone interested ill try to find.

                                2. Kind of like doing a New England clambake in seaweed or a Hawaiian luau in palm fronds and banana leafs. You gotta soak it in water and keep it moist to prevent it from burning up.