Braised Ham Hocks with Fennel

Did you know cooking with bones was ‘in’ these days? Me neither!  Sipping broth (homemade broth) is REALLY in these days too (just Google it).  My sister-in-law gave me this ‘Bones’ cookbook for Christmas and it really sparked my curiosity. Aside from grilling a bone-in T-Bone or roasting a whole chicken, I hadn’t really ever cooked with bones, let alone sought out specific bones to cook with. My work travels had me in New Jersey, at King’s Food Markets a few weeks ago and I was delighted to find they cater to this trendy food movement of cooking with bones. I decided to start with ham hocks and oxtails for the first go-round.

This recipe is “Braised Hock with Fennel Three Ways.” As with all recipes I use, I altered it a bit to suite my taste/ability. I don’t care for aniseed, so when the recipe called for pastis or Pernod, I substituted it for more broth. The fresh fennel and fennel seed we totally sufficient I thought. I braised this dish in an oven-proof skillet rather than a dutch oven for the simple fact that I don’t own a dutch oven.

First step, take your beautifully smoked ham hocks out of their wrapper and remove the layer of skin around them. (I boiled the skin in a small pot of water and added that broth back into the dish) Next you’ll want to sear the hocks on all sides (as best as you can) to enhance the flavor. When they’ve been browned enough, remove from the skillet and set-aside.

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Veggie time! Dice 1 large carrot, 1 celery stalk, 1 fennel bulb, 1 leek and half a bunch of scallions. I also minced 3 garlic cloves which were sautéed after the other vegetables were cooked.

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Next, add in one 14-ounce can of whole tomatoes, with their juices plus ½ teaspoon of crushed fennel seeds, the minced garlic and salt/pepper to taste. Add about 1 cup of the broth used from boiling the pork skins. Bring this beautiful medley of vegetables to a boil and then add your ham hocks back in. Cover the skillet with tin foil and carefully put into the oven for 2 ½ hours on 300 degrees.

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When you’ve removed the skillet from the oven, resist the temptation to grab onto the handle without a mitt. Believe me, it’s harder than you think to not touch that blazing hot handle. Make sure your ham hock is smoked, rather than ‘fresh’. I really think that made all the difference with the flavor of this dish.

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Amazingness!  I totally loved this recipe!  The wonderful smells that were pouring out of the oven were incredible and I really need to find some more smoked ham hocks soon!

At the very end, once you and your love (or dinner guest) have enjoyed the ham hocks, save the hocks. (Sounds a bit weird, perhaps, but half of the beauty of cooking with bones is saving all of the flavor they contain.) I boiled both ham hocks for another 2 hours in enough water to cover them completely and it made some very rich broth that I froze in 1 pint canning jars for later use…like this past weekend when I made ham and potato soup.  Worked like a charm to have that brother ready to go!

Recipe—Braised Hock with Fennel TWO Ways

  • 2 smoked ham hocks
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon of olive oil
  • Half of a bunch of diced scallions
  • 1 stalk of celery, diced
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 1 leek, diced
  • 1 small fennel bulk, diced
  • 3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 1 cup broth (from the boiled skins on the hocks)
  • 1 14-ounce can of whole tomatoes with their juices
  • ½ teaspoon of fennel seeds, crushed
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