Ham Hocks or Stinco di Maiale

Stinco di Maiale

Ham hock with yams and greens
Paul Poplis/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Tony wrote, much too long ago, to ask if I had any pork hock recipes. I do, but first a digression: American meat cut charts I have seen distinguish between pork hocks, which are pieces of meat and bone cut crosswise from the shank, and pork shanks, which are the extremity of the pig's leg, between elbow and wrist in the foreleg or knee and ankle in the hind leg. Italian recipes instead call for the whole pork shank or stinco.

I have not found any Italian recipes that call for what an American might call a pork hock.

Next, though pigs and pork are extremely popular in Italy, I have not found as many stinco recipes as one might expect, because, in addition to cooking them whole, Italians cure the meat from the stinco. Therefore, if local tradition dictates that what comes from the stinco go into a salami or sausage (or remain attached to the prosciutto), that particular region won't have much in the way of stinco recipes.

Having said this, there are a couple of important points to consider when purchasing pork shanks. First, though the shanks look sizable, they contain quite a bit of bone, which may contribute flavor depending on how the meat is cooked, but will not contribute substance at the table. Therefore, figure that a stinco will serve at the most two people. The second point to consider is that the muscles of the stinco worked during the animal's lifetime, and therefore, though tasty, they will also be tough and are best suited to long, slow cooking.

In short, stinco is perfect for the cooler temperatures of the winter months.

A Couple of Italian Recipes:

Classic Italian Pork Dishes
Since pork shanks cook slowly, they're a perfect candidate for being stewed with winter vegetables, for example, Savoy cabbage.

Other Pork Shank and Ham Hock Recipes:

Bavarian Ham Hocks - Schweinshaxe
Ham hocks have many names in German: Eisbein, Hachse, Haxe or Stelze.

In Bavaria, they call it Schweinshaxe and cook it in the oven, which turns the skin into a delectable crust.

Pork Hocks With Vegetables
A budget meal with pork hocks and fresh vegetables, basic but very good.

Barbecued Pork Hocks

It is an excellent alternative to common meats. The skin is good too and doesn't require BBQ sauce.