Just the other day I was picking up a few items from the local Smith’s grocery store when I spied frozen ham hocks. It’s not very often that they carry them (they usually only have the hooves) so whenever I see them I just have to get them and make one of my husband’s favorite family dishes- Chinese braised ham hocks.
Most people and even some of my Chinese friends say “yuck” when they hear I enjoy eating ham hocks (I also enjoy eating chicken feet, pig ears, cow tongue, 1000 year old eggs…). I totally understand because they didn’t grow up eating them like I did. I didn’t make this mistake with my kids so they’ve been eating hocks since they had teeth. It’s part of our culture and it’s important for me that they experience it. Hopefully they will share it with their kids.
There’s a Chinese restaurant in town that serves ham hocks; we could have easily just gone there for dinner, but today was one of those hang out at home days. My son was napping, daughter was doing homework, and husband was taking care of odds and ends around the house. I had spent the morning with our puppy at an obedience fun match and just wanted to enjoy the rest of the day at home. The day was a perfect one for a home cooked dinner.
The process of cooking ham hocks is fairly simple. To flavor the hocks, 6 ingredients- soy sauce, water, star anise, ginger, sugar, and cooking wine- are combined to form the standard Chinese braising liquid in which they simmer for several hours. I imagine that it can probably be done in a Crock-Pot if you can’t be at home for several hours, but I like to cook them on the stove. That way I can monitor the cooking and flip the hocks over so that they are flavorful all over. Plus, by the end of the cooking time you have this dark caramel colored sauce that has been reduced to contain all the flavors. Any leftovers of the precious sauce can be diluted with water to form a delicious brew that I can simmer hard-boiled eggs in.
Eating the hocks is pure happiness. It’s comfort food. It’s best to have a big scoop of white rice (the sauce is drizzled over the rice) and usually, we serve it with a vegetable- tonight it’s baby bok-choy. With each bite of the tender meat, I include a small piece of the stretchy skin with its underlying gelatin-like connective tissue (this is the best part). I carefully portion the amount of skin so that there’s enough to have with every bite of meat. The hocks, the rice, the bok choy- it’s all in my mouth and I’m happy. I look across the table at my kids and husband eating and talking; it’s just like it should be with a family meal. My son looks up at me and says, “I like ham hocks!” Now, that makes me really happy.
Chinese Braised Ham Hocks
Tip: This dish can be made ahead of time allowing for the meat to become really flavorful
6 ham hocks, rinsed
3-4 whole star anise
Soy sauce, adjust to taste, I used about 1/3-1/2 cup
1-2 tsp sugar
3 large slices of ginger
2 Tbsp cooking sherry or Shaoshing (Shaoxing) rice cooking wine
- Combine hocks, star anise, ginger, soy sauce, sugar, sherry in a large pot.
- Add enough water to cover the hocks about half way up the sides of the hocks.
- Bring to boil, then cover and simmer for about 3 hours or until meat is tender and hocks are a beautiful dark caramel color and the sauce is reduced to about 1/4 of the starting amount. Remember to flip the hocks over after about 1.5 hours of cooking.
- Sometimes I have to add some water to the liquid if there’s still lots of simmering time left.
- Can be served hot or at room temperature.