Let Them Eat Pork! Poached and Roasted Pig Hocks

roasted pork hock with parsley mashed potatoes

The largely unknown city of Compiegne, France, has the distinction of being the site of one of Louis XV’s most extravagant homes away from home. Under him, the Chateau de Compiegne became one of three distinctly opulent seats of government alongside Versailles and Fontainbleau. The latter French monarchs were hardly known for their desire to live simply as visitors to either of those other palaces can attest, and Compiegne is no exception, taking more than 35 years to complete with Louis constantly tinkering at the design to aggrandize it to his tastes. When finished it made the perfect departure point for forays into the nearby Forest of Compiegne, ancestral hunting grounds of French royalty, for some bracing sport. However, Louis was not into taking chances on returning with his game bag empty, and it is said that the forest was so well-stocked that a blind marksman could still expect to feast on wild meats.

Of course, it’s well-known that the rest of the French population were not eating in quite such grand style at that time, and it wasn’t until after the revolution and the rise of the bourgeois class that the French institution with which many of us are most familiar came into being, namely, the restaurant. Happily for us, upon visiting Compiegne in early 2010, we found that these days the city is much more egalitarian in its approach and makes abundant gastronomic accommodation for a range of economic classes. Indeed, the night we arrived, we dined somewhat opulently on escargot ravioli and kir royal before joining the sans culottes at the other end of the social spectrum the following evening with a carafe of vin ordinaire to wash down a marvelously flavorful jarret de porc, poached pig’s hock, a humble dish that was almost certainly never prepared for residents of the Chateau. Served with some whipped potatoes together with its poaching broth that would have been almost as good without the hock itself, le jarret was juicy, incredibly rich and porky, and meltingly tender.

roasted pork hock with parsley mashed potatoes

The porcine counterpart to the famed veal osso buco of Milan, the hock is the lower portion of the animal’s shin bone ending just above the trotter, and is consequently tough and full of connective tissues. As with all such parts of the beast, slow cooking is necessary to get the best out of it, and in the case of the hock, poaching tenderizes it perfectly, but ignores the magic of the skin and underlying fat, comparable with the cheeks in terms of porky flavor. To solve this problem, and improve upon the jarret of Compiegne, we roasted it in a hot oven that performed three special functions: 1) it rendered out some of the fat, 2) crisped the skin into some amazing crackling, and 3) transformed the connective tissue into sticky, almost sweet, gelatin. We then deglazed the roasting pan with some of the strained poaching liquid and reduced the mixture into an almost clear gravy, that combined with a squeeze or two of lemon juice to cut the richness, came together on its own with the pig gelatin.

Unfortunately, and this is why we took until the start of fall 2011 to make this dish, unsmoked pork hocks are rather difficult hard to obtain in America even from reputable butchers where their smoked counterparts are ever present, and it was only last week that we managed to get our hands on some, in, of all places, a regular suburban supermarket. Our freezer is now half-filled with pork hocks which will be dropped into Sunday gravy in the near future, and may well also feature in a special attempt at home-making aspic jelly should we run out of inspiration or suffer from pork overload in the interim. We would encourage you to seek out this humble cut of meat too, you won’t be dining royally but it might help you feel wealthy when you check your bank balance.

Jarret de Porc Poelee et Roti (Poached then Roasted Pork Hock) with Roasted Garlic Parsley Potatoes
(serves 2)

Ingredients

  • 2 large unsmoked pork hocks, around 1.5lbs/0.75 kilo total
  • 1 large onion, quartered
  • 1 head garlic, unpeeled, halved
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon + extra for seasoning potatoes kosher salt
  • 2 quarts/ 2 liters cold water
  • 3-4 bay leaves
  • 2lbs / 1 kilo floury potatoes (Idaho/Maris Piper type)
  • 1/2 bunch fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 3oz/3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice

Recipe

  1. In a deep pot, bring water to the boil and season with 1 teaspoon salt, peppercorns, onion, half head of garlic and bay leaves.
  2. Insert pork hocks, bring back to a boil, and reduce to a simmer for 1 hour.
  3. After around 45 minutes, pre-heat oven to 400F/200C.
  4. After 1 hour, remove pork hocks from liquid and place on an oven safe ceramic pot with a lid. Do not discard poaching liquid.
  5. Place hocks in oven and roast, covered, for 30 minutes, before removing lid, turning hocks over, and returning to oven uncovered.
  6. At the same time, wrap other garlic half in foil and place in oven.
  7. Strain poaching liquid, draw off around a pint/2 cups/0.5 liter, and discard the rest. In a large saucepan, reduce poaching liquid by around two thirds.
  8. At the same time, boil potatoes until fork tender.
  9. When hocks are ready to come out of the oven (40 minutes from lid removal, 1hr 10mins total) also remove garlic in foil. Take hocks out of roasting pot and reserve on a plate to rest, pour off excess fat from roasting pot.
  10. Then putting roasting pot onto a medium burner briefly, deglaze it with some of the reduced poaching liquid before pouring this back into the rest of the reduced poaching liquid.
  11. Reduce this liquid by a half again and stir in lemon juice. Taste for seasoning and correct accordingly.
  12. In a blender of food processor, combine parsley with roasted garlic (squeezed out of skins, skins discarded.) with 1 tablespoon butter.
  13. Mash potatoes, add milk, remaining butter and parsley-roasted garlic butter mixture and combine until potatoes are bright green. Taste and correct seasoning.
  14. Plate hock with potatoes and gravy and feel rich with a good bottle of Pinot Noir or Burgundian gamay.

16 thoughts on “Let Them Eat Pork! Poached and Roasted Pig Hocks

  1. Hi,
    This is my kinda food! Looks amazing and will definitely be tracking down some hocks ๐Ÿ™‚
    Out of interest, how long did you roast uncovered in the oven for? My guess is the roasting time is pretty forgiving, but I’m interested in your timing for this.
    Thanks!

    1. @Clare: thanks for the catch – recipe now updated. Roast the hocks for 30-45 minutes depending on size and desired level of crispiness on the crackling.

  2. This is the kind of food I grew up with! But with white beans instead of parsley potatoes. You can pressure cook those hock bones, too (split them open if you can) and make milky tonkotsu broth — best ramen ever.

    1. @Heather: it’s not exactly the same thing but there’s a Korean soup (I forget the name) that does the same thing with ox shin bones. Apparently, it’s the hangover cure of Korea. Must try it, hungover or not. Thanks for the tip.

  3. Oh how wonderful! These look just amazing.

    *Cue boring story that begins novel-length comment* When visiting Paris for the first time last year I was having a very nice anniversary dinner with my husband and mulling over the all-French menu at La Coupole not knowing exactly what I wanted. I saw the “Jarret de Porc en petite choucroute” and I thought, “Pork and sauerkraut sounds good to me,” so I ordered it. Then I realized, non-French speaker as I am, that I had no idea what “jarret” meant. All I could think was, “Holy crapola. Did I just order pig spleen?” I was quite relieved to see what ended up on my plate.

    I do see smoked hocks in the store, but trying to remember if I ever see the non-smoked variety. I see stuff like that and wonder about cooking it. I would make tihs in a second if I found one. Mashed potatoes are a nice alternative to sauerkraut too (love the stuff, but a chance is nice).

  4. @Rachel: in all honesty, we didn’t know what a jarret was when we ordered it either. Isn’t it great when it works out like that?

  5. You know, I never gave it much thought but I guess one only sees them smoked here… and they are used for flavoring, not really for eating. I don’t think I’ve ever had one as a dish in itself. You have, as usual, piqued my interest… looks gorgeous with that green too!

  6. This is good eats and luckily pork hocks are easily found here. I’ve been meaning to make a similar dish called Schweinshaxe, from Bavaria I believe. Let the French & Germans duke this one out!

  7. I went through old comments on my blog and found your comment on a pork post. I think it is quite apt that I found this recipe of hogs. I miss Namibia when I see this, their eisbeins are huge.

  8. Here in Brittany (where some 85% of French pork is produced) Jarret de porc is readily available in all supermarkets, along with most other parts of the pig. Village lunches (a regular part of rural life) with 300 or so people sitting at tressles in a barn enjoying a four-course meal, with all the wine or cider you can drink, for the princely sum of 11 Euro, are often based upon the jarret de porc. Volunteers spend the entire morning preparing vegetables and cooking the hundreds of jarrets to be served.
    If you visit Brittany, visit a few of the Mairies to find out if there are any in the area. All are welcome – even tourists.
    As I type this, my wife is cooking this dish for today’s lunch! Can’t wait!

    1. Thank you so much for your comment! What an amazing opportunity to eat Jarret de porc. Visiting Brittany is on our list to do and we will remember you amazing tip. Thank you so much!

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