Waxed legs

posted by Josh Evans

In November I traveled to the Faroe Islands, a remote archipelago north of Scotland, west of Norway, and south-east of Iceland. It has a tumultuous history, occupied, subordinated; and, though now part of the Danish kingdom, this place is a world apart from Denmark.

These islands seem desolate, barren – a cluster of rocks sticking up out of the sea. But they hold a richness, and a Faroese will tell you so.

The islands are wet. Waterfalls spring from nowhere along every ridge. All roads defer to these older, shifting veins. The mountains are abrupt and ribbed, covered in grass and moss and water underfoot and scree in some of the higher valleys. It is a heath that baptises every step.

The waters around the islands hold some of the best fish and seafood in the world. The langoustines are renowned. My host’s father runs a scallop fishery – bay scallops of a disarming suppleness, a taste sweet and clean.

The Gulf Stream warms the climate from the south-west, with alternating winds coming in occasionally from Norway. This creates climactic conditions very particular to the islands: consistent winds across cool summers and mild winters readily air-cure any foods left to hang. Fish and sheep are the most traditional. There is a concept called ræst, a specifically Faroese understanding of fermented flavour – the flesh is dried by the winds as it ferments, creating layers of flavour both mellow and deep.

The fish – ræstur fiskur – is often hung on racks exposed to the elements, while the sheep – ræstkjøt or, specifically, skerpekjøt  – is more often hung in wooden huts called hjallur, with small gaps between the slats to allow the winds to pass through and dry the meat.

My host’s brother gave me a hare he had hunted on the heath. Since November, we have been aging the legs according to the method we developed for venison, to see how it would work with a smaller beast.

These hare legs would provide a good opportunity to test a technique we thought of since the original recipe: coating them in wax to both slow the fermentation and keep in the remaining moisture.

Certain traditional aged hams, like Prosciutto di Parma, use a similar technique to seal up the open flesh where the leg was separated from the body. They use rendered pork fat. We had no rendered hare fat, so instead we used beeswax from our friends at Bybi.

One of the most divine smells. The lab was enveloped as it melted in the pan.

One leg we rubbed with honey; the other, we left bare. After basting both with the molten wax, we hung them to harden fully. We are interested to see how the honey will not only add sweetness but change the texture, remoistening the meat and softening the outermost layer.

We made a quick balm with the rest of the melted wax. Nothing like beeswax to keep the brisk winter at bay.