Ham Hock and Lentil Stew

You might ask why it is interesting to talk about a simple Ham and Lentil Stew. Well, it’s a nice opportunity to introduce one of my favourite “offcuts” of meat, the ham hock.

So what exactly is a ham hock? Also known as a ‘gammon hock’ or ‘gammon knuckle’, this last name is no coincidence- it’s part of the leg of the pig. You might have seen it on restaurant menus as Ham Hock Terrine, and Tesco do a Ham Hock and Cheddar sandwich, but its primary use is in stewing and stocks, given that it starts off a little tough. Don’t be put off by this though, the results in my experience have been rewarding.

A Ham Hock from Hedges Butchers in the Covered Market, Oxford

There are two good reasons to cook with ham hocks, not considering the good taste. Firstly, they are dead cheap. I usually get mine from Hedges, a butchers in the Covered Market, Oxford. You’ll get a joint of over 1kg for £2.49- great value for money, when you consider that a 200g pack of bacon will usually cost as much. Secondly, using ham hocks is a nice example of “nose to tail” eating. We are keen to make sure our food habits are environmentally friendly, supporting local producers and eating organic food, but sometimes we find it hard to eat more than the breasts of chickens, fillets or loin of beef and pork, or other well known joints. By eating all parts of the animal, we can have a more sustainable approach to farming, and minimise environmental impact. Offcuts and offal aren’t unfamiliar to us either- steak and kidney pudding is an English classic, pâtés are usually made from liver, and you’ll usually see oxtail soup on the supermarket shelves; we’ll happily eat these. So have a go cooking with offcuts- the results are usually great.

There is a disadvantage of cooking with ham hocks, however, which is that you have to be a little organised, and think about what you are making a day or so in advance. Ham hocks are naturally very salty, so you need to soak them in water, with a series of water changes, to absorb some of the salt. Also, as a slightly tougher cut, they will need a little longer to stew than ordinary cuts- in my experience sometimes around 6 hours is needed- which means you’ll need somebody in the house all afternoon. But if you can do this, the results are worth waiting for, the meat just falling off the bone.

Ham Hock and Lentil Stew

This recipe is nothing exotic, just a stew as an example of using ham hocks. So feel free to use different ingredients if you prefer.

1 Ham Hock (around 1kg)
350g green lentils
2 carrots
2 onions
2 sticks celery
4 cloves garlic
Herbs of choice (I used a bouquet garni here)
Ground pepper

1. The day before, soak the ham hock in a bowl of water. Perform a couple of water changes to try and neutralise the natural saltiness of the joint. The lentils might also need soaking as well- check the instructions on the packet.
2. Prepare and sauté the vegetables. Heat a little oil in a pan, and add the peeled carrots, diced onion, chopped garlic, and chopped celery. Allow to brown a little, and the carrots to soften.

The ingredients of the stew.

3. Meanwhile, rinse off the ham hock place in a large casserole dish. Add the vegetables, herbs, pepper, and enough water to cover the ham. Bring to the boil and simmer for around 3 hours, until the meat is falling off the bone. Keep an eye on the stew, you may need to top it up with more water from time to time.
4. Once the meat is tender, with a slotted spoon remove the ham hock and any loose meat from the casserole, and place on a chopping board. Allow to cool, then pull away the meat from the fat and skin, and peel into small bitesize strips- this should be easy if the meat is tender. Add this meat back to the casserole.
5. Add the lentils to the casserole. Then simmer for another hour and reduce to the desired consistency. Serve with whatever you feel like- I personally like to pair it with some nice fresh bread.

Wine pairing:
This stew is going to have a lot of flavour, and some salt, so you’ll want a red with some acidity. A Rioja Crianza would work well here, with the oak complementing the flavours in the stew.

The finished product, with a roll of home-made bread.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Cooking Pigs’ Trotters « oxfood
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