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[Photograph: Chris Granger]

Smoked ham hocks are a magical, transformative ingredient. The collagen-rich bony cuts of pork leg boast intense levels of umami and the ability to turn mere water into a silky broth in a matter of hours (a.k.a. pot liquor). Throw in freshly shelled crowder peas (a small Southern shell bean) to that cooking water, as Donald Link does in his new cookbook, Down South, and you'll wind up with a homey yet flavor-packed dish. Scoop out the peas and bits of pork with a spoon and then slurp or sop up the sauce straight from the pot. This here is Southern cooking at its absolute best. Don't skip it.

Why I picked this recipe: I can't resist the siren song (smell?) of ham hocks and peas.

What worked: Everything about this dish was on point.

What didn't: Nothing.

Suggested tweaks: You can use any freshly shucked bean here in place of the chowder peas. Fresh black eyed peas, cranberry beans, garbanzos, or even favas will work. The recipe also easily cuts in half if you're not up for shucking 2 pounds of beans.

As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of Down South to give away this week.

About the author: Kate Williams is a freelance writer and personal chef living in Berkeley, CA. She is a contributor to The Oxford American, KQED's Bay Area Bites, and Berkeleyside NOSH. She blogs at Cooking Wolves. Follow her @KateHWiliams.

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