Sunday, 10 January 2010

Ham stock and what to do with it

Ham stock is cheap and easy to make, and is an excellent foundation for a number of soups. You can buy a ham hock from your local butcher for about £2, and this will be enough to make a good 2lt of stock. The ham hocks come smoked or unsmoked - I prefer the latter, as I don't like the smokey taste that is otherwise infused into the stock.

You might want to soak the ham hock overnight to remove some of the salt, but if you forget or are short of time simply place the hock in a pot, cover with cold water, and bring slowly to the boil; simmer for 5 minutes, then discard the water and start again.

For the stock itself, place the soaked ham hock in a pot along with a carrot split lengthways, a peeled and quartered onion, two bay leaves, half a dozen peppercorns and a couple of cloves (optional). A stick or two of celery and some parsley stalks are also a good idea if you have them (I didn't, so made do without). Cover with cold water, bring slowly to a boil, and simmer gently for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, skimming off any grey scum that rises to the surface. The meat will have shrunk away from the bone when it's done.

Strain the stock, reserving the meat but discarding the vegetables. Cool and refrigerate overnight, then lift off the deposits of fat that have settled on top. The stock is now ready to use in your favourite soup recipe, but take care not to over-salt: taste the stock before you begin and, if it's too salty, dilute with some water.

When the ham hock is cool enough to handle, peel off the fatty skin, then pull the chunks of meat from the bone, discarding any bits of fat as you go. The reserved meat can be added to your soup, kept for sandwiches (with a good mustard), or used in another recipe (for example, added to a quiche or a chicken and leek pie).

Some recipe ideas

Lentil soup

This is one of my favourites, and is very easy to make. Finely chop an onion and a carrot, sweat gently in butter to soften, then add red split lentils and your ham stock. Bring to a simmer and cook for 30-40 minutes, until the lentils are done. Blend until smooth, then reheat gently with some cream. Sprinkle with snipped chives and serve.

Vegetable broth

Cut a selection of vegetables into small dice (carrot, onion, swede, leek, celery - anything else you fancy). Sweat gently in melted butter, with a lid on the pan, for a good 10 minutes, then add the ham stock and cook for a further 10-15 minutes. Stir in some cooked pearl barley (if liked), and plenty of chopped fresh herbs (parsley, chives, tarragon, mint). Delicious served with fresh, crusty bread.

Pea and ham velouté

Sweat a finely-chopped onion in melted butter until it is soft but not coloured. Sprinkle over plain flour and cook, stirring continuously, until it is a sandy texture. Gradually ladle in the hot stock, whisking until smooth after each addition. Bring to a boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes, until the mixture thickens slightly. Now add green peas (frozen peas work well with this, but let them defrost first), and simmer until the peas are done. Liquidise until smooth. This is nice with minted cream: whisk together double cream with fresh, chopped mint leaves, a squeeze of lemon juice, and salt and pepper; spoon a dollop into the centre of each bowl just before taking them to the table.

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