I came across cheap pork knuckles in the butchers this week. These are the lower part of a pig’s leg joint and can be quite meaty, becoming beautifully tender after a long slow cook. Note here that this is uncured raw pork – it is the same cut as a ham hock (also known as a gammon knuckle), but gammon/ham has been wet or dry cured with brine or salt.
I looked at a few recipes online and initially favoured cooking the knuckle like they do in Austria and Germany, as Schweinshaxe, quite popular in Bavarian beer halls. Schweinshaxe is often poached first, to moisten the meat while infusing it with flavour from vegetables, herbs and spices, before slow roasting in the oven with caraway seeds. I was sold on this idea, until I watched a Claudia Roden talk on YouTube the next day, where she mentions that the Moors inspired Spanish roast pork. This might sound a little odd – the Moors didn’t eat swine, being Muslim, but the Spanish took their cooking methods (seasoning, etc.) for other meats and applied these to roasting pork. Later, when the Spanish discovered the Americas, they brought pimentón (paprika) to Europe – this added a finishing touch. So while I was already aware of the above, it was the mention by Claudia Roden, that inspired me to cross the German Schweinshaxe with Spanish roast pork.
Poached Pork Knuckle:
1 pork knuckle
6 black peppercorns
6 juniper berries
2 bay leaves
1 large onion (peeled)
6 pieces of garlic (peeled)
2 sticks celery
A sprig of rosemary, sage and thyme
2 pints water
Put all the ingredients into a large metal casserole, cover and heat until almost simmering. Next, place the dish into a preheated oven at about 130ºC for about 90 minutes, turning the pork every 30 minutes. This can be done on the hob, but take care not to let it simmer or boil. The ingredients will work for two or more hocks if the pan is large enough.
When poached, remove the hock and strain the liquid to use for gravy. Keep the onion and garlic, but remove the other herbs and vegetables.
Allow the pork to cool, before scoring the skin with a sharp knife. Diamond or square shapes are good.
Spanish pork rub:
Heat the cumin and coriander seeds in a dry frying pan until they give off some fragrance – don’t cook or burn them!
Put the cumin and coriander into a mortar, along with the salt and pepper. Grind the seeds up with a pestle, before mixing in the pimentón.
Rub the pork all over with the seasoning and let it rest while you light the barbecue. Save a teaspoon of seasoning for gravy. Let the flames die down before you put the pork on – you don’t want a Towering Inferno.
Keep turning the pork for about 30 – 45 minutes. The fat and skin will slowly burst and pop, becoming crackling. Do not let it burn! When it looks brown and crunchy all over, allow it rest while you make gravy.
Cut the onion into four or more pieces, then blend with the stock and garlic. Make a roux with a little olive oil, butter and plain flour, then slowly stir in the stock to make gravy. Don’t forget to add the leftover teaspoon of barbecue rub for a Moorish flvour. Add a splash of sherry vinegar or Märzen beer to finish it off.