Ham hock is an unassuming cut of meat that packs a real punch in terms of flavour. Use it to level up soups, vegetable dishes, salads and more.
What is ham hock?
Ham hock, also known as pork knuckle, is the joint where the pig’s foot attaches to its leg, like a human ankle. It can be taken from either the front or back legs, and comprises around 4 inches of bone, with plenty of collagen, connective tissue and a small amount of meat, surrounded by a thick band of fat and skin. It is an inexpensive cut of meat and tends to be cured with salt and smoked, giving it a rich, salty, smoky flavour, similar to bacon.
What are its uses?
There is not enough meat on a ham hock for a substantial meal, but it’s intense flavour makes it something of a delicacy, and it is often given a sweet glaze to contrast with the smoky saltiness of the meat. It should be cooked low and slow until the meat is falling off the bone, then shredded and eaten hot or cold.
Ham hock is also used to infuse soups and vegetable dishes with extra flavour. Again, this cut benefits from slow cooking, and should be simmered in soup, or braised with veggies for as long as possible. This causes the collagen and fat to dissolve, infusing its surroundings with a deliciously rich, salty, oily, smoky flavour. After cooking, remove the hock from the dish, shred the cooked meat and add back in. Using ham hock to infuse a dish with flavour is particularly popular in Southern cooking, and is often used with ingredients like pinto beans and collard greens.
Ham hock soup: this beautifully flavoured soup from Gourmet Traveller is rich with aromatics, spices, chunky veg and salty, smoky ham hock.
Buffalo ricotta gnudi with smoked ham hock, summer squash, corn and herbs: this stunning, chef-created dish from S.Pellegrino Award winning Kathryn Ferries is a light, modern take on a Slavic classic, and is sure to be the talk of any dinner party.
Hoppin' John: a Southern classic, made with black-eyed peas and ham hock, and traditionally eaten on New Year’s Day
Mustard and clementine glazed ham hocks: this salty, sweet, smoky treat from BBC Good Food makes the perfect Christmas ham.
Ginger beer ham hocks: ham hock boiled in ginger beer and glazed with honey and mustard, courtesy of Delicious Magazine.
Ham hock, pea and potato salad: salty ham hock adds real depth of flavour to this fresh garden salad from Delicious Magazine.
Alternatives to ham hock
If you can’t find a ham hock, there are several alternatives you can use in a pinch. Smoked pork shank, a cut taken from just above the hock, is probably the closest match. It has similar smokiness, fattiness and lots of collagen, although it is a meatier cut than the hock. Other fatty, smoky porks can also be used, with smoked bacon or sausage also making good substitutes.
For those who don’t eat pork, smoked turkey leg has a similar flavour, with plenty of fat and collagen-rich connective tissue, and makes for a slightly healthier option than ham hock. There is no single vegetarian substitute for ham hock, but increasing the oil, salt and other seasonings in your dish can help replicate the fattiness and flavour, while liquid smoke or smoked paprika can be used for added smokiness.
A popular Southern ingredient, ham hock features heavily in Southern New Year’s Day dinner. Find out how to celebrate New Year’s the Southern way, and maybe bring yourself some good luck in the process, with our guide to the traditional Southern New Year’s Day dinner.