Blue Bottle Pastry Chef Caitlin Freeman Finds Ham Perfection at the Publican

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The platter, which includes hams from America and Spain, at Publican.
The platter, which includes hams from America and Spain, at Publican. Photo: Galdones Photography

Each week on the Food Chain, we ask a chef to describe a dish he or she recently enjoyed. The chef who prepared the dish responds and then picks his or her own memorable meal. On and on it goes. Last week, master baker Chad Robertson at San Francisco’s Tartine Bakery told us about Brandy cake with Arborio rice and almonds at Blue Bottle Café in San Francisco. Now it’s time to see what Blue Bottle Café’s pastry chef, Caitlin Freeman, has enjoyed recently. Caitlin?

Who: Caitlin Freeman, pastry chef at Blue Bottle Coffee Co.
What: Taste of three hams with goat butter and peasant bread
Where: The Publican in Chicago

“We were in the Midwest recently for a dear friend’s wedding in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. We drove from Chicago, up around Lake Michigan for the wedding, and then back to Chicago for a few days to explore the city. When we returned to Chicago from the wedding, we were road weary and looking forward to having some meals at restaurants we’ve been hearing about for years.

Our first evening was spent at Publican, and it felt great to be in a room that felt so comfortable, food on the menu that we were excited about, and a zillion beers for James to choose from. We started with the ham sampler, and, oh boy, it was ham like I’ve never had before! We ate a lot more that night. And a lot more on that trip. Most of it very good, I’m sure. But, to be honest, it’s like my memory stopped at that ham plate — I really have no recollection beyond it. Perfect.”

The Publican’s chef de cuisine, Brian Huston, responds:

“It’s one of those no-brainers. We had to have it on the menu, because it’s one of the classic combinations in food: ham, baguette, and butter. We have access to a really good goat butter from Wisconsin, which adds some really good funk to the meal, and we use a rye bread made locally by Pamela Fitzpatrick. Then we have these great aged hams, including La Quercia’s Americano ham. The platter has a little more balls than usual bread and butter. I think it’s also a little more beer friendly.”

Blue Bottle Pastry Chef Caitlin Freeman Finds Ham Perfection at the Publican