Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Readers Write

Every now and again someone writes to Grandma with a question she thinks lots of people might be interested in.  Here's one from Joan:

Hi Grandma,

What is better? A ham hock cooked German style or a pork hock cooked German style? Both are from the pig, but what is the difference between the ham hock and the pock hock? What happens to a ham that is cured? And a ham that is not cooked?

The skin on the pork hock if cooked correctly is wonderful when it is nice and crisp. I guess I can say that for the ham hock too.

Thanks for your response.

 Hi Joan - I guess "better" is relative. A ham hock is a pork hock that has been cured and sometimes smoked. (All ham is pork but all pork is not ham.) The hock is the narrow bit of the leg between what on a human would be the ankle and the knee. They're fairly meaty, pretty bony, take well to long, slow cooking and are usually pretty cheap - at least in comparison.

The "ham" word can be confusing because it refers to the part of the pig's anatomy that is either the buttocks and thigh area or sometimes the "shoulder and upper arm" from the front of the pig, though that is much more commonly called a Pork Shoulder. Ham that has not been cured is called "fresh ham." They are usually cooked much like you would cook a pork roast.

There are a couple of ways to cure ham. The stuff that you buy in the supermarket in most of the country has usually been injected with some sort of brine. These often come pre-cooked, like this one from New Braunfels Smokehouse. You just need to heat them for 15 or 20 minutes per pound, glaze them and serve them up. These days they often also come presliced so you don't even need to know how to carve them.

"Country ham" uses a dry rub. The best ones (arguably - at least the most famous) used to come from Smithfield, Virginia. I haven't seen a true Smithfield Ham except on Amazon in many a year. All of the Smithfield products I see these days are injected hams, not dry cure. Good dry cured hams are produced in most of the Southern states. I quite often buy a traditional dry cured ham from Tennessee at Cracker Barrel, though you may have to ask for one if your Cracker Barrel isn't in the South. They also sell slices.

 This kind of ham is either scrubbed, soaked overnight, then boiled, glazed and baked - quite a production, usually done for "big" holidays - then served in tissue thin slices, or it is cut into slices about 1/4 to 1/3 inch thick, cut up into pieces about 2 X 3 inches or so, then gently fried in a teeny bit of butter until the ham has browned and the fat crisped a bit, then eaten between the halves of biscuits. Ham Biscuits, BTW, are great picnic food -- marvelous cold. My Grandma always made us a big tin of them to take back to New England with us and a friend of mine in Germany got care packages now and then from her family that always had Ham Biscuits in them. (Yes, she shared. How GOOD those were - that little taste of home far away.)

Amazon has some great country hams if you don't happen to have a Cracker Barrel close by.  They even have ham slices!

The cured hocks are often added to beans in the same way that salt pork  might be and are also great as the "ham bone" in a pot of Split Pea Soup.  Split Pea Soup is the Pease Porridge of nursery rhyme fame.  It is also the original source of "watering the soup."  This makes a very thick soup that thickens still more as it cools.  Stretch it out by thinning it down with water or broth.  Here's Grandma's recipe:

1 pound split peas, yellow or green
1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, diced
2 small-medium potatoes, diced<
1 ham hock or meaty ham bone (Optional.  Leave this out if you want vegetarian soup.)
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon thyme
3/4 teaspoon salt + more to taste
1/4 teaspoon pepper + more to taste
4-6 quarts water

Put the peas, ham bone, vegetables and spices into a heavy 4-5 quart pot.  Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer.  Skim any foam that appears on the top of the liquid.  Simmer for an hour or two until the peas start to disintegrate.  Remove the ham bone or hock, cool slightly, then pull the meat off and cut it into small bits.  If you have an immersion blender remove the bay leaf and blend the contents of the pot.  You can of course use a regular blender,  though do be careful to hold the lid with a dish towel when blending hot liquids.  Grandma prefers her food mill .  Taste and add salt or pepper if needed.

Stir the ham bits into the soup.  Reserve some to sprinkle on top as a garnish.   Great with cornbread or any hearty bread and the leftovers reheat wonderfully.  Just add water.

1 comment:

  1. This split pea soup is very close to the recipe I have been making for years. Great on a cold, rainy afternoon with some fresh baked bread.
    I have been lurking on the Free books & Chat thread and thoroughly enjoy the variety of subjects that are covered. Thanks so much for your reviews of cookbooks as I collect them also. You have inspired me to try making hummus and baking bread again after many years.
    Love your blog.


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