Pork Knuckles or Hocks: An Unconventional International Delight

Pork Knuckle

Photo Credit: boo lee

The humble pork knuckle is considered by many as a throw-away part of the pork carcass. Graeme Wood prefaces “Pork Knuckle, German Delight”, his article on pork knuckles, with the statement that, “Even good butcher shops need to special-order pork knuckle. When they do, they expect that their customers will use it for ethnic stews–generally Asian, such as certain braised pork dishes in China, or pata (“paw”), a Philippine delicacy…

“To most American consumers, even the name “pork knuckle” is uninviting, summoning the image and texture of knobby, stringy joints…”

How Germans Transform Pig’s Knuckles

Wood changes his tune quickly, though, when he talks about how the Bavarians cook their pigs’ knuckles or schweinshaxe. He recounts his encounter with the transformed version of this frequently ignored cut of meat: “In Bavaria earlier this month, I visited nearly a dozen breweries, most of which serve pork knuckle, boiled and then baked, with pride. To call it a specialty is perhaps to flatter their menu, which typically offers nothing but pork knuckle, sausages, and platters of cheese and meat. Pork knuckle is not a delicate cut: it is a fatty football of meat and tendon, and its sawed-off protruding leg bone gives it a look of Teutonic barbarity, appropriate for consumption in a restaurant lit by torches and staffed by waiters smeared with woad. But in the context of Bavarian breweries, the pork knuckle’s indelicacy is perfect, because beers are brewed for maximum flavor, unfiltered and unpasteurized, so that each sip is a meal on the tongue. Any flavor more dainty than a chunk of sizzling pork, with a pad of browned fat and skin, would be lost in the rich flow of beer…”

The German way of preparing pig’s knuckles is to roast it till the skin is crackling crisp and the meat is fork tender. In “Bavarian Ham Hock”, Gabriele Utz shares her recipe for crispy schweinshaxe. She first cooks the hock in the oven with cut up vegetables, vegetable broth, and beer. Once the meat is soft, it is drained and grilled till crispy. The vegetables and the beer flavored broth are strained to make a sauce; this is traditionally served with sauerkraut or cabbage salad and Bavarian dumplings.

Other Versions of Delicious Pig’s Knuckles

In “Hardcore Chinese – Mom’s Best Braised Pork Feet”, the author, who is known simply as Maggie, shares her family’s pig’s knuckles recipe. Her recipe calls for pork knuckles (sliced into six pieces) and braised till soft in a broth made of ginger, sugar, soy sauce, chili, anise, and Shaoxing wine.

Filipinos also have their way of cooking pig’s knuckles. These are either braised till soft in a broth similar to what Chinese cooks prepare, or these are boiled till soft, allowed to rest till dry, and then deep fried. This dish, called Crispy Pata, is a Filipino favorite. In the southern part of the United States, ham hocks are traditionally cooked with collard greens and served with corn bread. In other parts of the country, smoked ham hocks are considered an excellent ingredient for savory soups.

Matching Pig’s Knuckles with the Perfect Drink

The Bavarian version of pig’s knuckles is perfectly matched with beer. Graeme Wood’s preference is for a good ungespundet lager. Likewise, for most Filipinos, beer is the preferred drink when they indulge in this fatty delight.

Pork hocks or pig’s knuckles are not considered glamorous food, but cooked the right way, they can be thoroughly sinful and finger lickin’ good.

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