I’ve never made Ham Hock before and I think I’ve only eaten it once before and it was called a pork knuckle.
So knowing we had a homemade Wiltshire Cured Ham Hock in the freezer begging to be eaten sent me running to the internet for inspiration. I expect you could buy a hock from a good butcher, but I haven’t ever seen one in a supermarket and it isn’t a cut I am very familiar with.
It is a tough cut of meat with lots of tendons and ligaments but as you know these are perfect for long slow cooking. I remember when cuts of meat like this use to be considered thrifty but I don’t think they are anymore. For example lamb shanks (which is the same cut on a lamb) can be quite expensive. At £10 a kg they are still cheaper than chops (about £15 a kg) but it isn’t like lambs’ liver at £2.22 a kg!
I believe in paying for good quality meat with the highest ethical welfare standards and that comes with a higher price tag I’m prepared to pay (and then eat lentils for the rest of the week). But formerly thrifty cuts of meat have become very fashionable here in recent years and that seems to be driving some of these prices increases (not an increase in welfare – although lamb is much better than pork in that regard) which is a shame.
Finally these cuts of meat that require long, slow cooking aren’t as thrifty anymore because of rising energy prices. A while ago a read a great article on A Girl Called Jack’s blog (I think) which pointed out that energy prices are now so high that many people can’t afford to have the oven on for 3 hours to cook a tougher cut. A very good point!
I do think there are two short cuts to the last problem. Firstly slow cookers if you have one – they use a fraction of the energy. Secondly a haybox – which continues slowly cooking the meal on residual energy. I’ll be using a slow cooker for my meal here and I’d like to look into hayboxes as well. But I do accept that both these solutions might require resources/skills which many people wouldn’t find easy to come by – so cheaper cuts, still not as thifty for most people as they used to be.
Back to the cooking and away from the ranting.
This was the most useful starting point: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/1341/ham-hock-and-lentils.
Partly because I already have a half box of Puy Lentils to use up.
After reading a number of recipes I decided to slow cook the hock in the slow cooker for 3 hours until it was falling off the bone and making lots of lovely stock, then use that stock to cook lentils and shred the ham on top. I don’t cook a lot of whole meals in the slow cooker because it seems to make everything taste a sort of pallid pale brown. But I do use it to help me cook bits of meals – dried beans, stock and pulled pork are where the slow cooker really comes into it’s own. This is one of those occasions when it will be vital, I need to cook the meat for a long time but I don’t want to constantly checking on it.
Slow cookers use considerably less energy than the oven or gas hob would for the same purpose. So this will save me money as well.
The lentils are cooked with onion, carrots and the dreaded celery* in the stock from the Ham and then served shredded on top.
*Dreaded because whilst I don’t like it, I don’t love it and sometimes it feels like there are painfully few ways of using it up. Probably fodder for a future blog post.