My soon-to-be-released book, TABLE FOR SEVEN is about regular people cooking delicious meals. So, finding good recipes has been on my radar.
Last week, I decided to try out a new soup recipe. It was unusually chilly in South Florida, and therefore good soup weather. And a pot of soup bubbling on the stove always makes the house smell cozy.
Still, new recipes are fraught with danger. Even if you follow the instructions, and read the helpful hints from other cooks on the Epicurious site, and do everything right, it can still go terribly wrong. If the dish comes out, you’re a culinary hero. If not, you’re tossing out expensive ingredients and ordering a pizza.
This particular soup recipe called for smoked ham hocks, which I’d never cooked with before. I wasn’t sure I’d ever seen them at the grocery store.
According to Wikipedia, the source for everything you can ever want to know about anything:
A ham hock is the joint between the tibia/fibula and the metatarsals of the foot, where the foot was attached to the hog’s leg. It is the portion of the leg – also known as pork knuckle – that is neither part of the ham proper nor the foot or ankle, but rather the extreme shank end of the leg bone and the associated skin, fat, tendons, and muscle.
So, basically, while a ham hock is not an actual pig foot, it’s pretty damn close.
Also: it’s disgusting.
As soon as I opened the first package of hocks, I was pretty sure this was something I wanted nothing to do with. But I bravely soldiered on. I boiled five of these things in a pot, with assorted chopped vegetables and aromatics, for four hours, to make the stock.
The smell . . . it was not good. It smelled like ass. I opened all of the doors and windows, trying to flush out the odor with cold air, while my family shivered under sweat shirts and blankets.
When the stock was finally finished, the recipe directed me strain the stock, reserving the hocks. Once they’d cooled, I was supposed to chop up the meat for the soup.
I tried. I really did. But there wasn’t any meat to chop. As soon as I took a knife to the hocks, they fell apart in a pile of skin, and fat, and disgustingness.
I tossed the meat, put the stock in the fridge overnight, and the next day, went back to Publix for ham steaks to cut up and use in the soup instead. I was hopeful that, while gross, the shanks may still have a produced a decent stock. After all, a chicken carcass isn’t exactly pretty, but I boil those suckers into delicious stock all the time.
So after another few hours of labor – chopping and cooking more vegetables, adding in the vastly-less-disgusting ham and the now gelatinous ham stock – the soup was finally finished.
And then I tasted it . . . and it was bad. Really bad.
Just to make sure, I called George in.
“Try this,” I said, offering him a spoon.
He gamely complied. An odd expression crossed his face. He put down the spoon.
“That’s the most revolting I’ve ever tasted in my life,” he said.
I sighed. “Yeah, I thought so, too.”
“Then why did you make me try it?”
“I wanted to be sure it was really as bad as I thought it was,” I said.
Two days of work dumped down the drain. Oh, well. At least the pizza was delicious.