Fri 15 Apr 2016

Baked Ham: A Crackling Match For German Wine

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Janet Wynne Evans gets into hock without breaking the bank…

Janet Wynne Evans

Janet Wynne Evans

What could be better than a classy bottle and a meal that cost next to nothing – apart perhaps from the sterling advice that it doesn’t really work the other way round?

Should you be tempted by our current crop of German wines, here’s a recipe to bring some joy to plate, palate and domestic balance of payments.

It involves that most Germanic of ingredients, ham, a riesling soulmate if ever there was one. The racy acidity of the grape offsets saturated fat while the roundness underlying even in the trockens soothes salinity. And the nobility of the fruit counters the pigsty so elegantly.

But let it also be said that a supple German pinot noir with a thick slice of baked ham is an Ode to Joy in itself.

A ham hock weighing a generous kilo will set you back little more than a couple of your hard-earned sovereigns. Slowly baked in the oven on a rhythm-section of onions, herbs and spices, it will feed four people adequately, or two very generously, with scrumptious leftovers. The cooking juices and not-quite-spent veggies make a superb sauce or can be blended into soup fit for a king, with shreds of the ham and a few pulses thrown in. The meat itself makes hearty terrines and well as peerless sandwiches.

When meat is this cheap, some other kind of investment is needed. Here, it’s time and, by extension, the cost of a longish tour of duty, albeit at low wattage, for your trusty oven. Even so, this meal is belting good value. It’s a much better destination than a food waste bin for unprepossessing bits of vegetable: the unglamorous outer leaves of fennel bulbs, slightly elderly celery sticks, the too-green bits of leek you’re always advised to discard. Any superannuated wine, cider or ale you happen to have around can be pressed into service too.

ham hock recipe

You can boil ham hocks for lipsmacking flavour and pleasing, pull-apart texture, though not photogenic beauty, which this baked version has in abundance. During the cooking, the flavoursome fat renders into the meat, rather than being lost in cooking water. A final blast of hot air gives them a beautiful burnished glow, and – praise be! – crackling!

Don’t try to make the recipe below on impulse. Snap up your hocks, vacuum-packed for extra shelf-life, or store them in the freezer. ready for a call to action. The impending arrival of a Wine Society van, for instance.

Janet Wynne Evans
Fine Wine Editor

BAKED AND ROASTED HAM HOCK WITH BEANS AND ONION SAUCE
One hock will serve 4 – but why not cook two for safety and leftovers?

• 1 or 2 unsmoked ham hocks, skin on about 1.2kg each
• 3-4 onions, or a combination of onions, fennel and leeks, roughly wedged or chunked, enough to cover the base of the dish
• A small bunch of sage leaves, washed and dried
• 2 bay leaves, fresh or dried
• 2-3 star anise
• 1 teaspoon of whole white peppercorns
• 100ml dry or medium cider or white wine
• 2 x 400g cans or jars white, butter or cannellini beans or flageolets, drained
• Salt and freshly ground pepper, white or black
• A small bunch of fresh parsley, leaves only, not too finely chopped (put the stalks under the ham before it goes into the oven).
• A pinch of mustard powder (optional)

Ideally, soak your ham in cold water the night before to remove excess salt. If you are seized by impulsiveness, a quick cheat is to cover your joint with cold water in a large pan and bring slowly to the boil. Once the water begins to bubble gently, pour it away and rinse the joint thoroughly in fresh water. In both cases, dry it thoroughly with kitchen paper.

Now score the rind all over with fine lines, close together. This is a simple task provided you have a Stanley knife, the point of which does the job admirably without cutting too deeply into the fat.

Preheat the oven to 150C/Gas 2 and choose a deepish roasting tin or ovenproof dish that comes with a lid.

Line the bottom of the tin with the vegetables, herbs and spices.

Stand the ham on top, and pour over the wine or cider. Grind in a generous amount of black pepper. Cover and bake for between three and four hours, or until really tender, basting from time to time with the juices. Add a little more liquid if necessary.

Remove from the oven and increase the temperature to 220C/Gas 7.

Transfer the ham onto a platter and carefully pour the juices and vegetables into a clean pan. Fish out the bay leaves and star anise. If you have a stick blender, use this to puree the vegetables into a thickish sauce. If not, cool them slightly and use a blender or food processor. A mouli, or vegetable sieve will also work and if none of these is to hand, simply chop the vegetables for a pleasantly chunky effect. Season and add a judicious pinch of your favourite mustard if you like.

Put the ham back in the tin, scored side up. Rub a little salt into the skin and return to the oven for about 25 minutes or a little longer if the crackling is elusive.

Add the drained beans to the onion sauce and heat through gently on the hob. Sprinkle abundantly with the parsley and keep warm.

Transfer the ham to a board and carve into thick slices or let it fall into shreds.

Serve in rustic fashion with the beans and provide contrast with a short, sharp, crunchy salad, dressed with mustard vinaigrette.

Categories : Germany, Other Europe

Comments

  1. James Bristol says:

    Hi Janet!
    Like so many of your recipes, this looks like ‘proper’ food and I agree entirely with the wine pairing, although as on so many other occasions, it only seems obvious once you have pointed it out. Thank you.
    One small point: on first reading I thought the recipe was suggesting that the bay leaves and star anise should be puréed….. thankfully I have now engaged my brain.
    I’m looking forward to trying it especially as I am a fan of German wine. I wish we had more dry Rieslings and red Pinots on the list…
    Thank you again for a most enjoyable column.
    Best wishes.
    James Bristol

    • Janet Wynne Evans says:

      Thank you so much for spotting that, Mr Bristol. This was a late correction of mine, because I’ve chomped accidentally on one too many bay leaves and an unsolicited whole star anise is too grim for words. So thought I should issue a reminder to remove the tough bits but all I seem to have achieved is to challenge fellow-members to an impossible task! Thanks for your vigilance and kind comments.

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