When writing up this recipe, I had to hesitate over how to describe the main ingredient. Confusion reigns about its proper name: ham shanks, ham hocks, foreleg, hind leg, smoked, not smoked? In the pursuit of clarifying, I found that sometimes “shank” refers to the meaty part just below the shoulder (picnic ham) or the hip (what we usually call “ham), and the toes (trotters). So, where does “hock” come in? The origin of the word “hock” is from Middle English and means to disable by severing the tendons just above the foot. From there, it came to mean a cut of meat from either the front or hind leg of an animal, especially a pig, just above the foot up to the hip or shoulder. It turns out that shank and hock are the same. However, in American butchery, the hock/shank from the foreleg is invariably cured and smoked. The meatier hock/shank from the hind leg is usually left intact with the ham, though sometimes you find it as a separate cut, sold “fresh,” to be treated like a lamb, or beef, or veal shank, or briefly brined to simulate a small ham, called jambonneau in French butchery, which the housewife cures at home.
So I settled on calling it a lightly smoked hock/shank from the foreleg. The degree of smokiness varies widely from subtle to overpowering. When it’s too strong, I soak the hock/shanks an hour to decrease the smokiness. As with all shank cuts, long-cooking is required to break down the gristle striations and soften and make the meat unctuous. For this recipe, I have worked with both a slow cooker and a pressure cooker. Both are far more energy-saving than traditional stove top or oven cooking. And with either energy-efficient method, the beans cook right alongside, making the dish an
exemplar of one-pot cooking, worthy of guest fare. I opt for pressure cooking when I would like to have the dish in little more than an hour. If I’m in no rush and would like to go about my business without tending the pot except intermittently, I choose the slow cooker. They are equally successful methods. With the rich sauce and the beans, two hock/shanks, cracked crosswise in thirds, can serve four generously, up to six or so for lighter eaters.
2 foreleg ham hock/shanks, cracked crosswise into thirds (about 2 1/2 pounds)
1 medium onion, quartered
4 large cloves garlic
Tops from 2 ribs celery, including the leaves
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 whole cloves, stuck in an onion quarter for easy retrieving later
1/ 2 teaspoon black pepper, cracked with a hammer or mallet
3/ 4 cup white beans, such as Great Northerns
4 cups filtered water
3/ 4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
4 small Belgian endives, halved lengthwise
1 tablespoon chopped flat leaf parsley, for serving
1. Place the hock/shanks, onion, garlic, celery, thyme, cloves, pepper, beans, and water in a pressure cooker or slow cooker.
If pressure cooking: Lock on the lid and bring to pressure over high heat, about 7 minutes. Decrease the heat to medium-high and cook for 35 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit for 10 minutes. Gently release any remaining pressure and go to Step 2.
If using a slow cooker, cover and cook on low for 8 hours. Go to Step 2.
2. With either method, using kitchen tongs, transfer the shanks to a plate and set aside in a warm place. With the tongs, remove and discard the onion, celery, and thyme sprigs.
3. Add the endives, cream, and mustard to the pot and stir to mix. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook without covering until the endives are limp and the sauce is thickened, 5 to 10 minutes.
4. Ladle the beans and endives around the shanks. Spoon the sauce overall, sprinkle with the parsley, and serve.