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~Stirring the Pot: Smoked Ham Shanks & Ham Hocks~

IMG_6608In my kitchen, cold weather is soup and stew weather, and, once the frost is on the pumpkin I like to make my soups and stews in slow-simmered big batches.  After we've enjoyed one hearty warm-us-up meal, I freeze the rest in two-quart containers, so we can slurp soups and stews several more times until Spring comes.  Chicken vegetable soup, beef stew, and, ham and bean soup are my on my family's short-list of favorites.  For the most part, when making soup or stew, "chicken is chicken" and "beef is beef", meaning:  they're almost self-explanatory.  That said, when making soups or stews that requires ham, I'll choose to use the boney, more-flavorful smoked shanks or hocks over a meatier chunk or a few slices of smoked ham every time.   

Time to define & discuss smoked ham shanks & ham hocks.

6a0120a8551282970b01a5117ecf09970cA bit about ham shanks and ham hocks:  Bony cuts of fatty meat taken from the legs and near the feet of the pig, with the shanks being the meatier of the two.

- Ham Shank

- Ham Hock

Smoked ham shanks & ham hocks can be used interchangeably.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c873a443970bThe shank refers to a fairly meaty part just below the pork shoulder (if it is the front of the hog) or the hip (if it's from the back of the hog).  The hock refers to a much bonier cut taken from just above the feet.  Both have a thick, tough skin (which is left on) and contain a lot of tendons, ligaments and fat.  They contain a lot of collagen too, which adds silkiness to whatever they are cooked in.  All of this means they require a long, slow, moist-heat 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1fd6cd2970cmethod of cooking, like stewing or braising, to make them edible.  They are primarily added to dishes to impart smoky flavor, not substance.

Unlike ham, neither contain enough meat to be the focal point of dinner. Instead, after cooking, the skin is discarded, the meat is removed from the bone and is added to hearty dishes like soups and stews containing beans or peas, greens, 6a0120a8551282970b01bb091713b3970dand/or potatoes or rice.  

Hocks and shanks sold in American markets are almost always cured and smoked in the same manner as ham, but, the degree to which they are smoked does vary.  I've never encountered any that have been over-smoked, but, if you do, soak them in cold water for an hour or two to leach out some of the overly-smokey intensity. They're both relatively cheap, but, I prefer the slightly more expensive, meatier ham shank to the bonier ham hock.  When I find them on sale, I always buy several because:  they freeze great.

While this post is about smoked ham shanks and hocks, if you do come across unsmoked ones, pick up a few of those too.  While smoked ham shanks and hocks are preferred when preparing soups and stews, unsmoked ham shanks and hocks are perfect for stovetop, or stovetop/oven braising.  Cook the unsmoked ones in the same manner you'd cook beef, lamb or veal shanks. Served atop a bed of creamy, roasted-garlic mashed potatoes alongside a scoop of buttery green beans, fork-tender unsmoked shanks or hocks make for a luscious Wintertime dinner.

IMG_6525"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2020)


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