A useful rule of thumb when selecting meats is that the lower down the leg you go, the tougher the meat gets. That's why pork hocks, and lamb and veal shanks -- all from the ankle section of those animals -- require slow cooking. Pork hocks are often smoked and provide a ham-like flavor, but they're also available unsmoked. Unsmoked hocks taste of pork rather than ham, and can be used to add richness and body to many slow-cooked dishes. Alternatively they can be enjoyed on their own, like shanks.
Things You'll Need
- Dutch oven, casserole or other heatproof baking dish
- Water, wine, beer, broth or other cooking liquid
- Beans, sauerkraut or other casserole ingredients (optional)
- Pair of forks
Arrange the hocks in a Dutch oven, or in a casserole or other baking dish. Space them evenly, leaving enough room for the cooking liquid to circulate around them. Use a deep enough pot to stack them in a second layer if you're cooking a large quantity.
Pour in enough water, wine, beer, broth or other cooking liquid to come halfway up the hocks. Alternatively, if you're preparing the hocks as part of a bean dish, sauerkraut or other casserole, add the remaining ingredients.
Place the lid on the Dutch oven and bring it to a gentle simmer on your stovetop, or preheat your oven to 300 to 325 degrees Fahrenheit, cover the baking dish, and slide it or the Dutch oven into the oven.
Simmer the hocks on your stovetop or in the oven until they're very tender and falling off the bone, usually 2 1/2 to 3 hours. If you're preparing the hocks as part of a larger dish, ensure that the remaining ingredients are also fully cooked.
Remove the hocks from the casserole or Dutch oven. If the hocks are your entree, serve them hot with an appropriate sauce and side dishes. If they're part of a larger dish, peel away the skin and any excess fat. Shred the meat with your fingers or a pair of forks, and return it to the baking dish.
Tips & Warnings
- Unsmoked pork hocks are also well-suited to cooking in a slow cooker. This is especially useful for traditional peasant dishes that require extended or overnight cooking. The basic procedure remains the same, but cook the hocks at your cooker's "Low" setting for 10 to 14 hours.
- Hocks are best when cooked whole, with their protective layers of skin and fat in place. Excess fat will pool at the top of the cooking liquid, where it can be removed with a ladle. If you'd rather reduce the fat by trimming the hocks, remove the layer of skin and fat with a sharp knife. Slide your blade along the inside of the skin to remove the rind of fat, then wrap the skin back around the flesh of the hock and secure it in place with toothpicks or butcher's twine. The skin contains a great deal of natural gelatin, which adds greatly to the quality of the finished dish.
- On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen; Harold McGee
- Photo Credit Jack Hollingsworth/Valueline/Getty Images