Why I’m in hock to the pig

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Pork hock rillettes

SOME THINGS are such a bargain it should be a criminal offence not to buy them. So it is with me and pork hocks. They are the cheap-as-chips joint that just keeps on giving. And when I saw them for sale at Roney’s the butchers on Sharrowvale Road, Sheffield, at £2.99 for one, a fiver for two, I knew just what I was going to do with them. I ought to say you can get them even cheaper on the market.

  • After boiling for three hours or more, the best of the meat would give me pork rillettes, a sort of halfway house to a full-on terrine (I would have needed two hocks for that).
  • The broth the cooking water had become would give me the base for soups.
  • The skin, gently cooked in a frying pan on the lowest of lights for two or so hours would give me crisp, tasty pork scratchings (and the resultant fat saved for frying or roasting).
  • Meat not soft or good enough for rillettes would be sliced fine for a Chinese stir-fry.
  • And the bone, stripped of any surplus fat but not the gristle, would add flavour to a pot of soaked, dried beans I was cooking up for the freezer and future chillies.

This goes up to eleven on the Frugality Scale of one to ten and ticks every box you can think of: economy, taste, versatility and that one about paying your respects to the animal by not wasting a single gobbet of goodness.

Here’s what I did. I put the hock in a pot with onions, carrots, celery, bay and herbs (no salt), bringing to the boil then simmering for three hours, or until it is beginning to fall off the bone. As it’s a salty joint you might want to bring to the boil, drain then start again with fresh water. I didn’t.

I took the hock out and allowed to cool overnight, also straining the cooking liquid and leaving it in the fridge. You can proceed while the meat is still warm but it takes a couple of hours before it stops burning your fingers.

The next day I cut off and reserved the skin. You will soon discover which is the best quality meat. You will have to scrape off the fat and cut away tendons. Now, using two forks, break up the meat into soft strips. (You can do a bit of fine knifework if this gets too tedious).

Put the meat into a bowl. Season. Add two tablespoons of good cider or white wine vinegar, a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, herbs of your choice, finely chopped gherkin/olives/caper berries and anything else that takes your fancy. Now get out the cooking liquid which will have jellied and scrape off some of the fat which has settled on top. Mix it in with the meat. It’s optional but a little bit of fat adds to the texture and ‘mouthfeel.’

Pack tightly into ramekin. One hock filled two ramekins. Now take a ladleful of that jellied stock, gently reheat it and pour it over the meat in the ramekins until it reaches the surface. Allow to cool when it will jelly back up again.

This is almost a terrine but isn’t and tastes great on toast or with a salad and freezes well.

Meanwhile cut up the skin, fat and all, into one or two inch squares, heat a heavy frying pan on a low light and leave until you have beautiful scratchings. Drain off the fat for later use.

The stock can also be frozen. You will probably want to dilute it 50-50. I used some of the leftover meat, finely diced, to make a meat and veg soup. The rest went in the freezer. The fat went on to baste a stuffed pork fillet for Sunday lunch.

The rest of the meat added to a stir-fry and the bones went in my beans.

I could, of course, have roasted the joint. It would have been a rather rugged meal but would still have been a tasty treat.

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