Cleaning out my Cabinets: Smoked Hock Rice

Last winter when I made the cassoulet for a holiday dinner, Kristi had to scour multiple grocery stores helping me find the right ingredients.  Oddly, after seeing them in my neighborhood grocery store on pretty much every visit in the previous 3 years, finding pork hocks was nearly impossible.  After a couple days of searching in a moment of desperation (because I needed to start cooking that night), I asked Kristi to purchase a package of smoked hocks she found at a store because it looked like the only option.  Later that day, I ended up finding the raw hocks I needed, so the package of smoked pig ankles headed into the freezer for use god knows when.

I don’t have skeletons in my closet, but I have lots of animal parts in my freezer, and they haunt me every night.  Then I remember all the currants in my cupboard and the nightmares really kick into overdrive.

Anyhoo, I got sick of staring at a pink package of ankles in my freezer but refused to throw them out despite having no idea what to do with them.  So, on a Sunday with no other posts in sight, I pulled the package out of the freezer and thawed it on the countertop.

This seems like a phenomenal business model: smoke a meat that costs $.50 a pound and sell for $2.50.  It's like alchemy.  And yes, I recognize the absurdity of me refusing to throw away a $5 package of smoked skin and bone

This seems like a phenomenal business model: smoke a meat that costs $.50 a pound and sell for $2.50.  It’s like alchemy.  And yes, I recognize the absurdity of me refusing to throw away a $5 package of smoked skin and bone

I knew enough about hocks to expect minimal edible meat to come off of these when I was finished cooking them.  They really have nothing to offer.  With that in mind, I decided to use the hocks to flavor a rice dish and mix the meat into the rice.  As usual, it all started with mirepoix.

Not m' best mire poix since I was just using whatever was in the fridge including baby carrots and minimal onion.  I wasn't particularly concerned with "ruining" the final product

Not m’ best mirepoix since I was just using whatever was in the fridge including baby carrots, limp celery, minced garlic, and onion powder.  And dried bay leaves.  I really shouldn’t even be calling it mirepoix.  I wasn’t particularly concerned with “ruining” the main ingredient

Sh*tty mirepoix soon to be sh*tty mirepete (when the salty ankles went in).  First, I deglazed with a quarter bottle of white wine once the vegetables had become translucent.  After a few minutes of the wine reducing, I added the smoked hocks to the pot.

The really looked so much more promising than they actually are.  There's just no meat on these things

If you don’t imediately recognize them as wrinkly ankles, they really looked much more promising than hocks actually are.  There’s just no meat on these things

I covered the hocks with a few cups of water and added a little salt and pepper to flavor the broth.

Dece start, at least it looked like a broth right away instead of just water and hocks

Dece start I think, at least the liquid looked like a broth right away instead of just water and hocks.  Really struggled to build any momentum while making this meal and that is carrying over to this post.   I guess this was just a very straightforward meal with not too many interesting steps

Once the broth got to a low boil, I reduced the heat to low and put the lid on.  Since I wanted it to simmer for a while, we headed out for a couple of hours to enjoy the summer and hit the playground.

No pacing this time around; this was a very low concern-level meal for me.  I figured it was trash or mouth so if it ended up edible it was really just a bonus.  I was possibly a little too under-concerned since I kinda forgot about the funk of a cooking pork hock until we re-entered the apartment.  It’s not an awful smell, but it is pretty strong and porky and not exactly what you want your whole apartment smelling like when the AC is blasting and it’s too hot to open windows.  Oh, and it looked super sketchy too.

Welp, did not see this one coming.  What the hell made it white?  And cloudy?  The liquid from the head cheese with feet, hocks, and necks looked nothing like this.  It looked like a giant pot of pork half and half

Welp, did not see this one coming.  What the hell made it white?  And cloudy?  The liquid from the head cheese with feet, hocks, and necks looked nothing like this.  This looked like a giant pot of creamed pork soup

I shut the heat off of the burner and let it cool a bit so the fat would be easier to skim off the top and the hocks would cool enough to pick the meat from.  After about an hour of cooling, I strained out the mirepoix and bay leaves, reserving the cooking liquid, then put it back on the stovetop to reduce it a bit.  The hocks headed to the windowsill to see if there was any way to photograph them in an appetizing light.

The answer, no.  No, there isn't a good light for hocks.  They just look like bones and skin.  Plus the layer of congealed cooking liquid didn't help

The answer: no.  No, there isn’t a good light for hocks.  They just look like bones and skin.  Like Madonna recently.  Has anyone seen Madonna?  Good lord, and she doesn’t even have a sheen of gelatinous cooking liquid covering her like the hocks.  Which I think gives them the upper hand.  Let’s move on

After the foto sesh, I started peeling apart the hocks to mine for meat.  The amount of gelatin from the bones and tendons in the hock plus the fat and collagen from the skin makes it a pretty messy process.  Plus, I am consistently amazed by how little meat actually can be found on a hock and how you can find a decent amount of meat on some but almost none on others.  The one definite is that it will be a horrible mess.

That's a difficult meat to bone/fat/skin ratio.  Not really a pile of meat to build a meal for a family around.  Again, who wants to get in on the smoked hock business with me??? We can keep all the meat for ourselves and just smoke the leftover parts!  We'll make hundreds!!!

That’s a difficult meat to bone/fat/skin ratio.  Not really a pile of meat to build a meal for a family around.  Again, who wants to get in on the smoked hock business with me???  We can keep all the meat for ourselves and just smoke the leftover parts!  No one will know because they expect nothing!  We’ll make hundreds!!!

With the cooking liquid reduced, I transferred it to a Pyrex and cooled to room temperature in an ice bath.  I tasted a bit to see if I definitely wanted to use it and I would describe the flavor as nearly identical to the smell in our apartment when we got home.  Questionable, but had to barrel ahead.

I measured out a half cup of white rice and combined it in a pot with a little over a cup of the cooking liquid and a splash of apple cider vinegar.  The idea was that the liquid would give the rice a rich flavor and have the flavors from the mirepoix and smoked hocks.  Didn’t make it look less dodgy.

Any idea on why the white?  I am assuming it has something to do with the smoking of the hocks or the freezer, or just the hocks?  I really have no ideas, it was completely bizarre

Any ideas on why the white liquid?  Anyone?  I am assuming it has something to do with the smoking of the hocks or the freezer, or just the hocks?  I really have no ideas, it was completely bizarre

After 20 minutes with the lid on I fluffed up the rice a bit and stirred in all of the meat which left me with this kinda delicious looking pot of food.

It looked good then and it looks good now.  Any time you cook rice in a craising liquid or stock it comes out looking delicious

It looked good then and it looks good now.  Any time you cook rice in a braising liquid or stock it comes out looking delicious

Not going to overdo this one, but this was decently tasty (to me) and definitely edible (for anyone else).  This was good to eat as-is, but a few shakes of Cholula hot sauce made it very enjoyable.  The rice was sticky from the fat and collagen in the pork stock and very rich, most similar to the texture of rice cooked in coconut milk.  The bits of pork were tender and tasty with a lot of good smoky barbeque flavor, like bits of smoked pork rib meat.  Pretty tasty, despite the funky smells, funky meat, and sticky coating on my hands that has yet to go away.

Right now I have a hogs head thawing in a cooler somewhere in Maine, and all I can think about is whether anyone remembered to put ice on it.  If the answer is yes and I remember to take pictures, you got yer next post right there.

Shin Steak Osso Bucco

I love osso bucco and generally order it whenever I see it on a menu.  Actually, let’s say a reputable restaurant menu.  I learned that lesson a few years ago at a subpar Italian restaurant that clearly didn’t understand the importance of slow cooking the veal shanks leaving me with fat and chewiness.

Despite my love of the dish and braised meats in general, I’ve never cooked osso bucco myself.  This is likely due to my love of using cheap cuts and not being willing to spend the cash to purchase veal shanks.  When I noticed something labeled “shin steaks” at Stop and Shop, I recognized an opportunity.

I didn’t need to go to the butcher’s window to get an explanation on this; I figured it was basically an osso bucco cut from a full sized cow.  And, hey, the price is right for this cheap DB bastid!

According to Wikipedia (I was going to pretend I knew this before a crisis of conscience), osso bucco means “bone with a hole”.  While a shin steak from a full-sized cow qualifies as osso bucco, it still isn’t the traditional veal variety.  It’s basically a cross section slice of a beef shank.  So, lets call this version of the dish Awso Bucco (copyright Conor Russel inc, 2011) moving forward.

I started out by trimming the fat and outer connective tissue from the shin steaks then tying them up with kitchen twine to prevent them from falling apart.

That one on the far left was a total rip off at $2.86 due to the large bone. I’m not the Monopoly man over here!

The shin steaks were seasoned heavily with salt and pepper then went into Big Yellow with a little olive oil to brown for a bit.

To continue with the Monopoly references, the shin steak on the far left was like Baltic Ave.  You knew it would be fun and better than expected, but you’d be pissed if it was your only option

While the steaks browned, I threw an onion, a couple ribs of celery, a few peeled carrots, and 4 cloves of garlic in the food processor and gave them a good choppin’.

Saw this in one of the recipes I referenced. It made complete sense to me instead of chopping the vegetables small by hand.  You could see how much it would break down and make for a nice texture after braising

After about 7 or 8 minutes, I flipped the steaks and started browning the other side.

I was going to pretend the kitchen twine wasn’t noticeably missing from this picture but figured someone would point it out.  The steaks were too thin and I am horrible at tying knots, so the string had to go

After a few more minutes I pulled the shin steaks from the pot and dumped the contents of the food processor in to cook for a bit.

This type of heavily food processor-ed vegetables never looks right, but previous attempts include the delicious mushroom paste I made for venison tacos and my traditional ginger, garlic and onion base for fried rice

Since the food processor basically makes a garlic/onion/carrot/celery juice with pulp, the vegetables don’t really brown or caramelize, they just cook.  Not sure how to expound on that eloquently, but there are no visual signs that things are cooking once you put them in the pot.  After a few minutes you just shrug your shoulders and add some tomatoes.

Went with a 14oz can of diced tomatoes and a few spoonfuls of tomato paste. Deprived you of a self-taken pour shot here, but I think you’ll survive

Then a bottle of white wine once the tomatoes have cooked with the vegetables for five minutes.

Now that’s a pour shot!  Charles Shaw Sauvignon Blanc, ‘course

Once the braising liquid reduced a bit over high heat, I threw in a couple bay leaves and strategically placed the shin steaks back in the pot.

By strategically placed, I just mean that I made sure they weren’t pressed against each other. I was the middle school chaperone to this Awso Bucco dance

Lid went on and Big Yellow headed into the oven for three hours at 300F, checking occasionally to make sure that too much liquid hadn’t cooked off.  After the full three hours, you should have something that looks like this:

Looked good, but wanted to reduce that liquid a little bit

Since there was a little excess liquid, I took the lid off and cooked uncovered for another 30 minutes.  Which was a perfect cue to start the mushroom and corn risotto I chose to pair with the Awso instead of polenta.

I like polenta when it’s crispy fried in cake form, but I wouldn’t do that well so I decided to go with risotto for bringing in the sweet corn flavor

After 30 minutes uncovered, the liquid had mostly cooked off, and we had a decent looking pot of braised loveliness.

Kristi was game for eating this, but I was already looking at the marrow in her portion knowing she wouldn’t touch it

Very simple meal to plate; pile of risotto, then the Awso and a big spoonful of the sauce from the pot over everything.

That is a perfect plate of 20-degree-day dinner. Best enjoyed with a giant glass of red wine and a fireplace

The sauce was rich and tasted strongly of white wine in very a good way.  There’s just something phenomenal about slow cooked sauce with tomatoes, mirepoix, and white wine.  The Awso was the perfect texture; not quite fall-apart stew meat, but insanely tender and delicious.  The sweet risotto was a solid counterpoint to the richness of the Awso, though the corn got a little sticky in the cooking process.

With all of my marrow talkin’, you didn’t think I’d actually forget to mention it?

Big bone, big chunk of marrow. See! That MBA education made me more smarter! Correction: more smarters

The marrow was good, had all the best flavors from the sauce and a melt in your mouth texture.  Wish I had made some bread to smear it on.

Next week we’ll be talking pies.