This year, for the first time, I made some Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day. It’s a traditional Southern rice and beans dish made with black eyed peas and collard greens to symbolize money and bring a prosperous year to those who eat it. But you know what? I think I’d rather suffer a full year of bad luck than ever have to cook with a ham hock again. I mean really. That shit is just plain nasty, and believe you-me, I know nasty.
I didn’t even know what a ham hock was when I went shopping for it the other day. Even after I got home from the store with two of them shrink wrapped on a styrofoam tray, I still didn’t know what the hell a ham hock was. Thank God for Wikipedia, ya’ll.
A ham hock is the joint between the femur and tibia/fibula, where the foot was attached to the hog’s leg. It is the portion of the leg that is neither part of the ham proper nor the foot or ankle, but rather the extreme shank end of the leg bone and the associated skin, fat, tendons, and muscle. This piece generally consists of too much skin and gristle to be palatable on its own, so it is usually cooked with greens and other vegetables in order to give them additional flavor (generally that of pork fat and smoke), although the meat from particularly meaty hocks may be removed and served.
Ewwww. Just reading that made me throw up in my mouth a little. Gristle? Too much skin? Gulp. Are we talking about a pork product or a circumcision?
So yeah. I bought two of them thar’ ham hocks and I boiled them on the stove for a couple of hours to make a ham hock stock for the beans. Then, when the hocks were cool enough to handle, I had to remove the skin and bones and pick out the meat to chop up and mix with the beans. Seriously, I might have to become a vegetarian after this experience. It was vile. I’m wondering if Morningstar Farms makes a “mock hock” soy product. If they don’t, they should.
Listen, before you get all up in my biscuits asking where the hell I got such a nasty recipe, let me tell you that I took it from The Gourmet Cookbook. You know the one, over 60 years in the making? The one edited by Ruth Reichl? If you could only have ONE cookbook, this is THE one you would want. Seriously. I love this cookbook. It is my kitchen bible. I do what it says, no questions asked.
But I gotta tell you, my Hoppin’ John wasn’t that great. It was ok, but not good enough to want to make again, let alone turn into a family New Year’s Day tradition. But is that the cookbook’s fault? Maybe Hoppin’ John just isn’t that good, period.
Then I tasted my friend Jennifer’s Hoppin’ John. She made hers with a corned beef! A corned beef! Hey, I’m the half Jew yankee and she’s the redheaded southern girl. What is wrong with this picture? Why the hell is she cooking with a corned beef and I’m standing in my kitchen, hungover like a mo-frankie, pickin’ shards of stinky not-quite-ankle meat out of boiled skin and bones? Talk about not kosher.
Of course Jennifer’s Hoppin’ John was Da Bomb. Shoot, you could make hemorrhoid cream from a corned beef and it would still taste delicious. I bet she served hers with organic brown rice too instead of the nutritionally void long grain white rice I made with mine. She’s cool like dat.
But here’s the best part. All that work and we didn’t even eat our Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day. We ate it on January 4th. Long story short, I made too much food and my dear husband’s family was a no-show, so I decided to put the Hoppin’ John away for another day. Jennifer says we’re toast. “It doesn’t count if you don’t eat it on New Year’s Day.” But I made it on New Year’s Day! “Nope. It doesn’t count.”
So maybe my Hoppin’ John wasn’t that good because it was already 4 days old. Or, maybe ham hocks are just gristly body parts not intended for human consumption. Or perhaps believing that the dish would not bring me any luck was enough to spoil the experience and the flavor. It doesn’t really matter. Corned beef, ham hock, mock hock, or no hock… the point is, you’re s’posed to eat them on New Year’s Day. Got it.
Maybe next year I’ll just make some nice black eyed pea hummus instead. Easier, healthier, and no meaty ham hocks required. Count me in.