The Real Reason You Should Cook With Ham Hocks

Most every type of cuisine has an ingredient that's essential to have in the pantry. For Vietnamese food, it's fish sauce. For Indian food, it's garam masala. For American southern cuisine, it could certainly be argued that ham hocks are the magic ingredient. Ham hocks are a cut from the bottom half of the leg of the pig (via Bon Appetit). They're also known as a pork knuckle, so if your butcher looks at you in a weird way, try the alternate name as well (via My Recipes). 

Though they are prepared as a main course in some cuisines, you might not want to eat a ham hock on its own as they're mostly fat, skin, collagen and tendons. However, they work marvelously when it comes to flavoring dishes. Another added bonus is that since they're not a prime cut, they're extremely cheap and shouldn't cost you more than around $3 per pound.

How to use ham hocks in your cooking

Because ham hocks are so full of fat and collagen, they are perfect for dishes that cook for a long period of time, such as soup, beans, or leafy greens like collards. When they are cooked over a long period of time, the collagen and fat in the hocks dissolve, imbuing the dish with a richness and depth of flavor that will spice up old standards. Many ham hocks are cured or smoked to help preserve them, so the smokiness will also add another layer of taste to your cooking (via Oola). 

Ham hocks are easy to freeze and will keep in the freezer for a few months before you would begin to notice any difference in the quality (via eHow). You don't need to worry about overcooking them either, as ham hocks take between two and eight hours to become tender. When you are finished cooking your dish, you can either remove the hock entirely after it's done its job flavoring the dish, or you can dissect it and leave bits of edible lean meat in the dish.