“Hock,” for me, was one of those words I’d heard before, as in “ham hocks,” but I wasn’t sure exactly what part of the body it referred to. About a month ago I was wandering through the canned meat section of the grocery store and there it was, a jar right next to the pig’s feet (see earlier post, if interested). Both were made by Hormel, and both were packed in vinegar. After I bought it I went ahead and looked it up. The hock is not the foot or ankle—rather it’s the joint that connects the metatarsals of the foot to the lower end of the lower leg bones (the tibia and fibula). As such it consists of skin, muscle, tendons, and ligaments. I'll give you a moment to clear the drool off your chin.
Because many of these tissue types tend to be rather tough, pork hocks are usually stewed for long periods to make the meat more tender and palatable. They're often part of soups, or served as a stew with vegetables. Despite their handicaps, hocks are consumed perhaps surprisingly widely--folks in England, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Poland, Italy, Sweden, and China, among others, are known to enjoy them. Back in the U.S., it's known as a soul food staple. Alternate names for this food are "hough" and "pig's knuckle."
As I often do, when I was ready I simply opened the jar and had at them, plain. There's no getting around this--they looked kind of gross. There were some obvious differences from pig's feet right off the bat. There were soft, flat-ish pieces of what was clearly skin portions, whitish pieces of fatty tissue, and other parts that looked like more traditional chunks of meat (the tendons, ligaments, and muscle parts, I assume). But when eaten as a whole, it tasted pretty similar to the pig's feet. Vinegary, certainly, but otherwise, like tender pieces of pork. Not as good as bacon, or sausage, or better cuts of meat, like pork loin, but not bad, either. I had little trouble finishing off the jar. I can't say I'll make it part of my regular meal rotation, but I might buy it again, on occasion. Also unlike the pig's feet there were no bones to deal with. And for those afflicted with celiac disease, I'm pleased to inform them that hocks are bereft of gluten.
And so my quest to consume every part of the pig except the "oink," as the quote goes, continues. I guess next up will be the eyeballs, or uvula, or kneecaps.