I can’t believe we haven’t talked about ham hocks. We will now, I guess!

Smoked ham hocks by Cookbookman17, on Flickr

A hock is a section of the pig on the leg, just above the trotters–above the ankle, but below the primary muscles.

If you’re the kind of person who learns livestock parts by comparing to people parts, then touch somewhere around the part of your forearm between the midpoint and an inch away from your watch and you’ve got a hand on your hock. In lamb and veal, we call that a shank. So where’d the term hock come from?

Horses, actually–in a horse, the hock is the joint near that spot. The term itself was derived from 14th century English hockshin, which in turn came from the Old English term hohsinu, referring to the Achilles tendon, derived from hoh, the word for heel.

Shank, on the other hand, comes from the Old English word for shin, sceanca, and the proto-Germanic root skankon. Shank was actually a term we applied to humans until Middle English decided instead to go with a Scandinavian-derived word related to the Old Norse word leggr.

“Well, great,” you’re thinking, “but what do I need to know about these things in the kitchen?” Well, this part gets a little bit confusing.

There are actually two slightly different kinds of hocks (because like humans, pigs have different front and back legs); some people prefer the meatier hind hocks, while others swear that the flavor and gelatin content in the foreleg hocks is better. Technically, only hind leg hocks are “ham hocks,” because the cut of pork that makes ham is from the hindquarters; over the years, however, butchers started calling smaller cuts of the forelegs “picnic hams,” and now the term refers to both.

What makes this tricky is that we tend to think of hams as cured or smoked, and certainly, most of the recipes you’ll see from the South (or inspired by the South, like this one) are calling for cured, smoked ham hocks. But because the name is traditionally refers to the cut of pork, and not how it was prepared, you can find raw ham hocks if you’re interested–particularly in regions with a lot of Chinese or Scandinavian cooks, as both cultures have recipes for un-smoked hocks.

From a box sold in Martinez, California.


Ham hock put in cold water and boil then cool in water
1 onion, diced, in ->
Oil–light olive oil
toasted sesame
2 cloves garlic, chopped; add to onions
1-1/4 lb. shrimp, raw, in 2 pts. boiling water–3 minutes; put in ice water
tomato paste (no salt in onions etc.)
alligator + pork sausage
Thyme (fresh) chopped, and
8 cloves
12 peppercorns
1 tsp. pure cayenne pepper

Put sauce in 3 cups rice.

Mix shrimp with ham hocks. Stir in thyme and parsley.

Translation of Jambalaya (provided by Yesterdish)

Note that this isn’t my recipe for Jambalaya–this is what I’d do based on the instructions above. Normally I’d cook the rice with the stock and saute the raw shrimp, for example, but I’m not trying to replace this recipe–I’m just trying to fill in the blanks and rescue it.

1 ham hock
2 quarts cold water

1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1-1/4 lb. shrimp
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/2 lb. sausage, cooked and crumbled (optional)
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme, chopped
1/4 tsp. ground cloves (instead of 8 cloves)
1 tsp. ground black pepper (instead of 12 peppercorns)
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp. light olive oil
1 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil

The following were not in the original recipe, but given that two are part of the Holy Trinity of Louisiana cooking, you really can’t make a Jambalaya without them.

1/2 cup green pepper, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1 bay leaf

  1. Cover ham hock in cold water. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for two hours.
  2. Remove ham hock from liquid. Remove anything that isn’t meat from the hocks (including the central bone) and discard it; if this isn’t easy, the hocks weren’t cooked long enough. Set the meat aside.
  3. Turn the fire under the stock to medium. Peel and de-vein the shrimp, reserving shells. Refrigerate shrimp.
  4. Add the shrimp shells and bay leaf to the stock and cook 20 minutes, adding additional water if necessary.
  5. Strain stock into a clean pot to remove any shells or bone fragments, then return the strained stock to the fire.
  6. Bring stock to a simmer, then poach shrimp in stock for 3 minutes. Lift shrimp out of stock and cool with ice water. (While this isn’t strictly necessary most of the time, we don’t want the heat of the rice to overcook them, so we want to stop the carryover heat.)
  7. Reduce stock to 2 cups, then set aside. Remove bay leaf.
  8. In a saute pan over medium high heat, saute onion, celery, and bell pepper in olive oil for three minutes. Add tomato paste, garlic, cayenne, ground clove, ground pepper, and the stock. When heated through, stir in cooked rice, the sesame oil, and then the meat of the ham hock, the shrimp, and the sausage, if you’re using sausage.
  9. Serve with Tabasco.

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