Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Ham & peas & ham & peas & ham…

Our recent trip down to Dorset wasn’t all about the fish and seafood, there’s also a lot of fantastic produce coming off the land in that beautiful part of the world, and one of the very many good reasons to want to go back there, soon and often, is to try more of the local meat and veg.  As it was we returned home with just a big bag of foraged wild garlic from Chideock, a rather smaller bag of the prettiest, purplest, purple sprouting broccoli ever – quite pretty enough to put in a vase on the kitchen table, let alone on a plate to eat – and, from the same farm shop as the broccoli, two ham hocks.

I’ve written quite a bit about neglected or ‘forgotten’ cuts of meat on this blog, and that’s not just out of curiosity, or because I’m being wilfully esoteric, or even because these cuts are inherently more interesting and fun to cook with than the regular ones (although I happen to think they often are), but because they taste really good.  And because, generally on account of being fatty (yum!), or knobbly looking, or both (or indeed neither, in the case of the truly inexplicably cheap pig’s cheeks), that flavour comes at a sometimes ridiculously low price.  And on that score, these ham hocks  - both around 750g and coming in at just under two quid for the pair – must establish some kind of new benchmark.  The bar has been considerably raised, or lowered, I suppose.  Because that two quid supplied the feature ingredient in two dinners and one lunch for two, a couple of solo lunches and the starter for a dinner party.  And there’s still a litre of stock in the freezer.  And even better, stretching the meat out to such lengths required no great labour, or cunning, or skill on my part, nor obvious parsimony.  On the contrary, the dishes served were, I like to think, and in their own simple way, really quite luxurious.

First cook your hocks:

First thing, obviously, was to cook the hocks.  Which could scarcely be simpler, as cooking goes, although it takes time.  Mainly in soaking the hocks overnight, in a big pan filled with plenty of water, to de-salinate them, so it’s hardly time arduously spent.  Once soaked, and the soaking water discarded, refill the pan with enough water to cover the hocks, add a roughly chopped onion, carrot, leek, stick of celery or combination of all or any of those, with a bayleaf, couple of cloves of garlic, sprigs of thyme, peppercorns, mustard and fennel seeds etc, just as you would for making any stock.  Bring the water to a gentle simmer and leave it there for a good couple of hours.  Then turn off the heat and let the hocks cool in the stock.  And that really is the crucial part of the cooking done, really, for all those meals I listed above.  Which leads me to wonder why, how, it can possibly be that not only is the ham hock neglected, but that it’s not an absolute staple of all our diets.  Particularly in these economically straitened times.  It really is a mystery.  Anyway – here’s how a couple of quid’s worth of ham hocks (and quite a lot of peas) became five meals (or a substantial part thereof).  And how the week after we came back from Lyme Regis became something of a festival in celebration, not only of the ham hock, but also it’s natural and ever faithful companion, the pea:

Meal 1: Honey mustard roast hock

As with lamb shanks, a single ham hock might often be a little too much for an average individual portion, but appear rather meagre if stretched as far as two.  On the other hand, most of us could probably do with reducing our meat consumption, for the sake of our own health, and that of the planet, not to mention the animals that must live and die to supply the meat we consume.  To that end, smaller portions of well flavoured meat are ideal, and a single hock, glazed with honey and mustard serves two people with perfectly healthy appetites (as I believe you will have gathered we are from any regular reading of this blog) very well.

Once the hock has been cooked and cooled in its stock, simply take it out and trim it of it’s fatty shroud, making sure to leave at least a thin layer of fat for the honey mustard glaze to adhere to and to keep the meat moist in the oven.  You can stick the hock with cloves too, if you want, as I did with my Christmas ham, but couldn’t be bothered with for this quick Sunday supper.  Gently heat a tablespoon of honey and a teaspoon or two of mustard (English or French, whichever you have and/or prefer) together in a saucepan until runny and pour over the hock in a roasting dish, making sure it gets evenly coated.  Then simply roast at around 180, for about 15 minutes.  I served the ham simply pulled off the bone, alongside roasted, layered, potato and onion and simple peas. 

Some good old fashioned parsley sauce would perhaps have been the perfect finishing touch, but not very Becca friendly, I’m afraid.  Perhaps I could have done a pie and mash shop style parsley “liquor” – except made with the ham stock, of course, not eel stock, thickened with flour and lurid green with chopped parsley – and next time I might, although I have to admit, that every time I’ve tried a traditional old East End pie and mash shop I’ve always been disappointed, not to say mildly disgusted, and the liquor in particular has always been thoroughly unappealing.  That said, and it’s by no means a trad pie & mash shop, but I did recently have excellent jellied eels as a starter at Fish Central in Kings Square near Old Street, EC1.

Meal 2:  Ham, pea and broad bean risotto with wild garlic.

This risotto was made in the usual way – as described here, using a half litre of the stock from cooking the hocks (strained, skimmed and reheated).  Meanwhile I podded some broad beans and steamed them, adding a good handful of frozen peas a couple of minutes before they were done, then refreshing them in cold water till the risotto was almost done.  At the same time I pulled apart the remaining ham hock, trimming off all the fat, and chopping the large pieces of meat into rough 1cm dice, these I set aside, mostly for the terrine I’ll come to later, but allowing some for this risotto.

When the risotto was ready for finishing off with its final splash of wine and extra ladle of stock, I stirred the beans and peas through it, then right at the end, just before finally taking it off the heat, stirred in the garlic leaves and a small handful of the smaller, more shredded bits of ham.  This was a real contender, along with the crab and wild garlic risotto we had on the night of our return from Lyme Regis, for the title of best risotto I’ve ever made.

At this point, I'm going to take a break.  Be sure to join me next time, when this pea and ham adventure will be continued...

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