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.
*Reprinted with permission from Down South: Bourbon, Pork, Gulf Shrimp & Second Helpings of Everything by Donald Link with Paula Disbrowe. Copyright 2014. Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold.
- Ham Hocks and Peas:
- 2 smoked ham hocks
- 1 onion, cut into medium dice
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 pounds shelled fresh crowder peas or other field peas
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- Easy Pickled Chile Vinegar:
- 2 cups sliced banana chiles, stemmed but not seeded
- 1 cup sliced serrano chiles, stemmed but not seeded
- 3 cups distilled white vinegar
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
To make the broth, combine the hocks, onion, bay leaves, and 3 1/2 quarts water in a medium heavy-bottomed pot. Bring to a boil over high heat and then reduce the heat so that the water simmers.
Cover and cook until the ham hocks are completely tender, about 4 hours.
Meanwhile, make the chile vinegar: Put the sliced chiles in a 1-quart glass jar. Bring the vinegar, sugar, and salt to a boil in a nonreactive saucepan. Cool briefly and then pour the hot vinegar over the chiles. Cool again for a few minutes, then cover with the lid and refrigerate for up to 3 months.
When the hocks are tender, add the peas, salt, and pepper and cook until the peas are tender, 30 to 45 minutes. Make sure the peas have enough liquid to cover them throughout the cooking process. If the liquid seems to be evaporating too quickly, cover the pot. The liquid should soak up into the beans as they cook; when they are done, the liquid level should be even with the peas. Stir in 3 tablespoons of chile vinegar before serving.