What Is a Ham Hock?

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Ham hocks aren’t a meals that often seems on my grocery checklist. And but — each time I eat a recipe made with ham hocks, I’m blown away on the depth of taste and sophisticated, savory style. Ham hocks are basically a culinary superhero, they usually’re positively not only for Easter recipes. 

In truth, as I realized after chatting with a soul meals chef and a butcher, most post-Easter soups (like the normal cut up pea and ham) are made with bones, not hocks. However they ought to be made with hocks. The TL;DR model: Ham hocks have tons extra taste and meat than bones. They’re simple to prepare dinner, and have a wealthy culinary historical past. Let’s dive in.

Ham hocks come from pigs (no shock there). I requested Kardea Brown, a up to date Southern prepare dinner of Gullah Geechee descent, and host of each Meals Community’s Scrumptious Miss Brown and The Nice Soul Meals Cook dinner-Off, to provide me the information. (Brown can be publishing her first cookbook, The Approach House, obtainable for pre-order on Amazon and elsewhere) The ham hock is situated on the backside a part of the leg, or shank, near the ankle, Brown says. “It’s additionally referred to as pork knuckle,” she famous; you might even see it labeled with both descriptor. This a part of the pig incorporates plenty of connective tissue, so moreover including nice taste to the dish, ham hocks deliver a wealthy textural ingredient to ready dishes.

Ham hocks seem mostly in soul meals delicacies, which, Brown explains, has a direct hyperlink all the best way again to slavery. “There’s a phrase referred to as ‘excessive on the hog,’ she says. “Slave house owners would dine on extra fascinating cuts similar to ham, sausage, and bacon, whereas slaves got much less fascinating components of the hog — ‘low on the hog.’” Low on the hog components included intestines, spleen, snout, and yep — the ham hock. Says Brown, “With a purpose to survive and add taste to their meals, slaves realized how you can prepare dinner with these ‘undesirable’ cuts of meat.”

What’s the distinction between ham hocks, trotters, and ham bones?

Ham hocks are a completely distinctive a part of the pig. Sam Ehrenfeld, a butcher and farmer who runs Schoolhouse Farm in Vermont together with his spouse, Brooke, explains: “On the rear legs, a ham hock consists of the shin bone part, and on the entrance legs it’s the forearm part. It’s to not be confused with the trotter, which is the foot part — and solely obtainable on a skin-on pig.” 

Ham bones, however, are precisely what they sound like: Simply bones, and most usually come from the leg. You’ll most often encounter these after you’ve completed your ham dinner, as within the case of a spiral ham

Right here’s a useful option to keep in mind the distinction: Ham hocks and pork trotters are components to be cooked, whereas a ham bone is the results of one thing that’s already been cooked. (However you should utilize the ham bone once more, to taste soups and stews.)

Are there various kinds of ham hocks?

As Ehrenfeld talked about above, chances are you’ll encounter ham hocks from the entrance or again legs. However in the case of taste and use, the necessary distinction is between smoked and unsmoked hocks. 

Unsmoked ham hocks are less complicated and simpler for butchers to supply, as a result of they’re merely butchered, wrapped, and bought. They’ll then be utilized in any recipe that requires a ham hock, and can impart all the fatty, collagen-y goodness you’d count on.

“A smoked hock may have a smokey taste (duh),” explains Ehrenfeld. Whereas scrumptious, it’s a dominant taste which will or might not improve the dish you’re planning on cooking. One other necessary distinction? Ehrenfeld says, “A smoked hock has been brined — a.okay.a. salted —earlier than it’s smoked. So you want to issue that in if you salt the dish you’re making ready.”

The place to purchase ham hocks (and what to search for)

In case you’re fortunate, chances are you’ll discover ham hocks in your grocery retailer. The ham hocks at most grocery shops will usually be smoked, and, in keeping with Brown, will likely be situated in both the packaged meat part or on the counter. 

Can’t discover hocks at your grocery store? Head to a butcher store, the place you’ll be extra more likely to encounter them — and even perhaps have your alternative between smoked or unsmoked choices. How are you going to know you’re getting a top quality ham hock? Ehrenfeld encourages clients to ask the identical questions they’d increase for some other components of the pig: “The place and the way was the pig raised? Is it a regionally produced product? What was it fed? Was it raised in confinement?”

Ham hocks needs to be stored within the fridge, of their unique packaging. They’ll final for as much as two weeks if vacuum sealed, but when your hock is loosely wrapped in butcher paper, you’ll need to prepare dinner it throughout the subsequent day or two (as with all contemporary meat purchases). Didn’t get round to creating that recipe? Switch the ham hock to hermetic plastic and pop it within the freezer. These deal with freezing nicely, and can final for months. Thaw within the fridge when able to prepare dinner.

The important thing to cooking ham hocks, in keeping with Brown, is to consider them as a taste enhancer, not the principle occasion. There isn’t sufficient meat on a hock to name it dinner… and moreover, most of it’s fats and connective tissue, which dissolves into the pot when cooking. However as a result of it’s so superior as a taste booster, Brown and her household at all times purchase the smoked selection. After that, your creativity can run wild. They mostly present up in braised greens, beans, soups, and stews at Brown’s desk, which brings us to a different guideline for making ready ham hock.

What to do with ham hocks — and how you can prepare dinner them.

“Go low and sluggish!” says Ehrenfeld.  “The muscle tissue in a ham hock are very robust, in order that they want a very long time at low warmth to interrupt down.” The adage “Good issues are price ready for” applies right here. Ehrenfeld explains, “Given ample time, the flavour is like nothing else on a pig: it needs to be very tender, and have nearly a silky texture from all of the collagen within the connective tissue that breaks down when it’s cooked correctly.”

There’s no must sear ham hocks earlier than braising or simmering, as you’d with, say, brief ribs — particularly if the meat has been smoked. Merely add it to the pot or pan together with loads of liquid (water or inventory), your components, and aromatics. 

Are you able to substitute something for ham hocks?

Technically… no. “A ham bone will add some taste to a dish, nevertheless it’s not interchangeable with a hock,” explains Ehrenfeld. Right here’s why: “Any recipe that requires a hock is assuming that there’s meat on it. And a smoked hock specifically will add much more taste to any dish than a ham bone!”

However when you can’t discover hocks, or — simply as essential — you don’t eat pork, there’s positively a viable Plan B. Says Brown, “Smoked turkey legs or necks are nice alternate options!”

A few of our favourite ham hock recipes

Information you should utilize: You don’t want a recipe to prepare dinner ham hocks. If in case you have a favourite preparation for low-and-slow beans or greens, you may add the hock proper together with the remainder of the components and proceed as ordinary. However when you’re on the lookout for a bit of extra steering, these recipes are nice locations to begin.

Rochelle Bilow


Rochelle Bilow is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute, and the previous social media supervisor at Bon Appétit Journal and Cooking Mild Journal. She has additionally labored as a prepare dinner on a small farm in Central New York, and a Michelin-starred restaurant in New York Metropolis. Her foodie romance novel, Ruby Spencer’s Whisky Yr, will likely be printed in 2023. Join together with her @rochellebilow.

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