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Fried Yunnan ham with potatoes and peas

One of the specialities in the Provence of Yunnan is aged, dried ham. Two small villages, Xuanwei and Neodeng, specialise in making this ham. I had the fortune of visiting Dali, close to Neodeng, last October and, of course, had to bring back lots of this ham.

Salt-cured Chinese hams have been in production since the Tang Dynasty (618-907AD). The first records appeared in the book Supplement to Chinese Materia Medica by Tang Dynasty doctor Chen Zangqi, who claimed ham from Jinhua was the best. Pork legs were commonly salted by soldiers in Jinhua to take on long journeys during wartime. Other early references to Old chronicles recorded the Qing emperor Yong Zheng in 1727 enjoying this ham that was supposed to have health and medicinal properties. The process of making the ham is very elaborate and hovers between science and art. The hams are made from a special breed of semi-wild black pigs. The legs are salt-cured, air-dried, aged 6 months to a few years. The pork is bright red in colour and marbled beautifully with fat and it has a layer of fatty skin on the outside. The ham is salty, as it should be, but the umami flavour is lovely. Compared to most air-dried hams, this ham is usually cooked before eating.

This is a lovely dish that is mild and highlights the flavour of the ham. The quick dish is always a treat on the table because of the unusual Yunnan hm that is hard to get outside the country.

This cookbook specializes in the Yunnan Province in China, one of the 33 distinct Chinese cuisines. It is a masterclass in the ingredients, cooking techniques, herbs, and spices of the region. It is packed full of traditional recipes. I have bookmarked quite a few recipes for the near future.

For more fabulous recipes from this cookbook, click here.


3 tablespoons oil

2 medium potatoes, cut into 1/4-inch dice

1 cup peas, fresh or frozen

1/2 cup Yunnan ham, finely diced

Salt, to taste

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

1 cup water

2 cups cooked with rice, preferably a day-old

Heat the oil in a wok and add the potatoes. Fry on medium-high for 4-5 minutes till the potatoes are golden. Add the peas and cook for an additional 3 minutes.

Add the ham and cook for 2 minutes till the oil from the ham is released and the ham has fried a bit.

Add the salt, pepper and water and cook for 10 minutes on a low simmer until the potatoes are thoroughly cooked.

The should have a thick stew in the wok that is very aromatic. Add the rice and mix well, taking care not to break up the grains too much. Steam covered for 3-4 minutes.

Serve immediately.

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