Ham Hock and the Senate Bean Soup

Kristen Frederickson

Kristen Frederickson › What part of liv­ing bliss­fully in New York and own­ing an art gallery ...


Editor’s Note: This is my grandfather, Robert S. Strauss’ favorite soup to this day. I remember eating it with him at the Senate Dining Room when I was a teenager visiting him in D.C.  I’m pleased to say we’ll visit him next month for his 95th birthday, and I’ll bet Senate Bean Soup will be on the menu. And it will be served the way he likes it–piping hot! Thanks, Kristen, for bringing back good memories! Staci Strauss

Gammon hock, gammon knuckle, knuckle end, ham hock. Whatever you call it, the lovely little ankle joint of the pig is a magnificent cut of meat.

In its unsmoked, uncured state, it is fresh meat, and will roast or boil as you expect a pork roast to do. In its smoked/cured state, it is preserved, and will behave as you expect a ham to. I far prefer smoked or cured because I am a salt fanatic, but even if you are not, you may prefer to buy the preserved cut and then boil it for an hour to remove some of the salty taste. It’s a matter of which flavor and texture you prefer. Either choice works very well for the recipes I describe below.

This cut of meat makes my heart sing for several reasons. It is inexpensive; it follows the “nose to tail” philosophy of meat consumption slowly making its way across the world, thanks to restaurateurs and chefs like Fergus Henderson, encouraging us to eat the whole animal if we’re going to eat any of it.

And most of all, the knuckle is delicious. Firm and meaty throughout, covered with a thick layer of lovely fat, simply roasted on its own, this pork is heavenly. My family has been known to hover around the kitchen counter as I draw the roasting pan from the oven, and then, with their forks and sharp knives at the ready, they begin to slice, shred, hack little bites from the small, steaming joint as I try to shoo them away. It’s best to roast two knuckles just to adjust to this nibbling reality.

This cut of meat makes my heart sing for several reasons.

Slow-roasting is best, with a good piece of aluminum foil in the roasting pan to make cleanup easy. This is especially important if you plan to drizzle your knuckle with honey, molasses or Lyle’s syrup to impart sweetness to the crunchy crackling. At least three hours at 300F/165C is necessary for this method. Then nibble away.

My method for serving the hot roast ham is this: remove the crackling and set aside (or just begin devouring it). Remove any loose fat on the surface of the meat and feel around the bone of the knuckle for firm pockets of meat that you can slice thin with a long, sharp knife. This is your first knuckle meal. Either tuck into the slices with a dollop of creamy mashed potatoes, a helping of crackling and a spoonful of the cooking juices, or pile them onto toasted sourdough bread with a rich Cheddar cheese, a slathering of horseradish and a good slice of Vidalia onion.

The second meal for your knuckle can take any of several forms.

The morning after this scrumptious meal, toss some bite-sized pieces of the knuckle in with beaten eggs and cream, shredded mozzarella and steamed broccoli for the ‘ham-scram’ of your life. I like to cut the leftover meat into small bites and mix them with an eggy stir-fry. It’s also a delicious idea to mix shredded bits of the meat with sautéed minced onion, garlic, red peppers, mushrooms and a spoonful of breadcrumbs, and stuff the mixture into more peppers or mushrooms and bake them. Alternatively, stir the small pieces of pork into a bowl of warm couscous with some crumbled feta cheese.

Now you will have enjoyed much of the best this beautiful cut has to offer, but there are still the lovely bones! The best way to use these is in the third, and possibly yummiest, meal for knuckle meat, United States Senate Bean Soup. As the title implies, this soup is a staple–and has been for over 100 years–at the cafeteria in the Senate Building in Washington! I’ve told you about this recipe before, but the recipe bears repeating. Thick with vegetables and fragrant with parsley, this soup is just the thing to use the last of your precious gammon knuckle/ham hock, as summer ends and a warm bowl in your hands is a welcome thing indeed.

Does soup sound good to you today?

Photo credit: Avery Curran