Our favoured local value meat supplier at Mui Wo Meats has a classic budget cut on their lists. A mere HK$40 gets you a tasty Spanish ham hock – the part of the leg below the ham itself. As with most budget cuts, this doesn’t look that promising – it’s got skin, fat and bone and not that much meat. But with hours of slow cooking it turns into something magical. The skin and bone add a rich flavour (you get rid of the actual skin and bone before serving after they relinquished all their goodness) and it’s actually not that fatty after all.
The classic soup combination for hock is with peas – the saltiness of the hock combining with the sweetness of peas. Niki Segnit is the queen of flavour pairings and in her wonderful Flavour Thesaurus she reports that Swedish institutions use to favour a thick pea and ham soup called arstoppa on Thursday evenings to ward off the hunger pangs during Friday fasts.
We’re going for a slight variation with broad beans whose chunkier nature I think suits the dish and the other vegetables we’re adding in. Broad beans are available frozen from many local supermarkets. Some people peel broad beans – the skins do have a slight grey drabness about them and supposedly are bitter. But I just throw them straight in frozen – either broad beans are getting less bitter through cultivation or the savouriness of the ham is working to counteract it.
The choice of vegetables is up to you but you do need beans or peas or something close in there to get the classic flavour combination.
Soup is something of a misnomer for this recipe- it’s more of a stew although I suppose you could put everything bar the meat through the blender if you want a smoother result.
It’s actually a very easy recipe with the only slight faff being the need to skin and bone the hock towards the end of cooking. I used a slow cooker and cooked for about six hours – as you can see, this made the hock very tender and the skin came away easily in one piece with the meat easy to shred from the bone.
If you don’t have a slow cooker (or a rice cooker or something similar with a low setting) then you could cook this, covered, on the stove-top in a heavy bottomed pan or in the oven on a low heat. In both cases it would need less cooking time and you would probably need to add a little more liquid – the slow cooker keeps the liquid in.
Watch out for the seasoning – the ham hock is already salted so go light on added salt until you’ve tasted the final result.
- 1 ham hock – about 550 – 600g (defrosted if it comes frozen)
- 1 onion – finely diced
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and squashed
- 1 carrot – diced
- 2 sticks celery - diced
- 2 medium potatoes – diced
- Broad beans 125g (frozen)
- Stock – about 750ml (from a cube is fine; water makes an adequate substitute)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 lemongrass stalk, bruised
- I small leek or 2 large spring onions, thinly sliced (optional for garnish)
- Oil for frying
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Heat a glug of oil and add the onion. Cook gently for about 15-20 minutes until it starts to take on some colour. You can do this in the container you are eventually going to do the main cooking in if it will go on the stove-top or alternatively in a frying pan or wok.
- Add the garlic, carrots, celery, potatoes and ham hock and heat gently for a few minutes.
- If you’re using a different container to the main cooker (like a slow cooker), transfer all the ingredients from the pan to that. Add the stock and some ground pepper. You want the liquid to almost cover the ham hock. Don’t add any salt at this stage
- Cook slowly, covered, for about 4 hours in a slow cooker; about 2-3 hours on the stove top or in the oven. If the stove=top or oven, check periodically whether you need to add liquid if it is going dry.
- Add the broad beans and return to the heat for about one hour more.
- Check the meat is tender. If not, cook for a little longer.
- Check the seasoning and add salt if necessary.
- Remove the ham hock to a chopping board and use two forks to strip the skin. Then shred the meat away from the bones. Return the shredded meat to the soup.
- Serve, garnished with the optional thinly sliced spring onion or leek if desired.
It’s great served with some crusty bread or you could serve with rice if you’d prefer.
Extra can be frozen. If freezing, re-heat thoroughly before serving.