A pork hock, or ham hock as it is commonly called, comes from the pig's leg just above the foot and below the knee. Pork hock is a very inexpensive and tough piece of meat that is loaded with connective tissue, ligaments and muscle fibers. When cooked low and slow, however, it yields fork-tender meat and a very flavorful broth that is useful for making stews and soups. Pork hocks are available either smoked or unsmoked. The version does not affect cooking technique, but one provides a smokier flavor, which you may prefer.
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Rinse the hock with cold water and place in a large, heavy-bottomed pot.
Add roughly chopped vegetables including onions, potatoes and celery. The vegetables will help season the hock and the broth. Start with two onions, one pound of potatoes and a complete celery bunch, approximately eight stalks, with the upper leafy half removed.
Add pepper and fresh herbs including thyme, rosemary and bay leaves, to taste. If you don't have fresh herbs, use dried herbs at a ratio of one to three; one serving of dry herbs for every three of fresh. Adding salt is optional, as the ham has a very salty taste already, especially if it has been smoked.
Fill your pot containing hock, vegetables and herbs with water until all ingredients are covered with at least an inch of water.
Bring to a low simmer and cook for two to three hours. Longer cooking times will result in more tender meat on the hock and a richer broth.
Strain the broth from the hock and vegetables using a colander and store it for use as stock for soup. Pork hock stock is preferred for use in split pea soups, with bits of ham from the hock mixed in to the final product.
Carve or pull cooked bits of meat off the ham hock and serve with cooked vegetables, or use as an addition to soup made from the pork stock. You can eat the vegetables made with the stock, but they will lack most of their texture. Consider making an additional portion of roasted or steamed vegetables to go with your ham hock.
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If you want firmer vegetables, don't add them until later in the cooking process. You can also brown your pork hock before simmering. Brown in the large pot you use for simmering over medium-high heat with 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Browning will add a sweeter flavor to the meat and create a crispier outside texture.
Do not give the bone from the pork hock to your dog or pets. The cooking process will significantly soften the bone and make it prone to chipping and cracking.