Pork Hock

German Pork Knuckle (Schweinshaxe)

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It’s ‘unofficially’ the start of summer here in North America. The Victoria Day weekend just passed-by last week, and for those working in the weekends, a long weekend as such is a killer. I was not spared, of course. I worked two lines for two separate kitchens and both were extremely fast and hot. I was demolished! It took me about a week to recover and after that week was over, I still felt sleep deprived. Indeed, these were the initial signs of summer and signs of more trouble ahead. Summer is short here and each weekend is surely packed with activities; well, for those who leisurely enjoy the long days and short nights familiar with summer. For me, it’s the season I rake in the hours and kill myself working eventually.

Anyway, as the kitchens become busier and hotter by the day, the more I crave and long for Filipino food or for something else that’s in any other way not connected with what I cook in the line. From that thought issue, my mind begins to wander and to think of what I can prepare next that can match my beer and my liquor. Unfortunately, that’s another form of comfort I seek after working 15 hours non-stop during the day. And, I really wouldn’t want to splurge on food outside anymore just to save time in transit and arrive home as early as possible. I want rice and I want something either greasy or sour to eat it with! My colleagues don’t seem to understand why I avoid the food I cook and always advises me to at least eat anything. I still vehemently refuse. I munch some stuff here and there just to keep me going through the day or night and hydrate myself every so often.

‘Crispy pata’ is my all-time favourite greasy masterpiece, if you still haven’t noticed the statements I have written in almost all my previous post. I haven’t tasted anything more comforting than a deep-fried ‘Pata’ soaked in a condiment everybody’s familiar with-‘Suka.’ I can finish a pork hock all by myself. That’s how much I love ‘Crispy Pata’ despite its very unhealthy properties. I don’t know what other kinds of deep-fried hocks are out there, but the closest deep-fried hock I have encountered and eaten was in Bavaria in Germany back in 1991. The Germans have a Roasted Pork Knuckle dish that goes so well with Sauerkraut, Potato Salad and of course the mighty German Lager on tap. Filipinos and Germans seem to understand what goes what with beer.

Filipinos also seem to love Potato Salad, which unfortunately, I really don’t like especially when it’s mixed with Mayonnaise. That’s a classic Pinoy concoction which until now I still don’t feel like eating or tasting. Simply put, I don’t like Mayo. Moreover, Filipino Potato Salad is just there everytime during the holidays, birthdays or whatever special occasion its duty is called for. Its mixture doesn’t seem to change. I’d eat my potato salad with olive oil, butter and herbs or with gravy and taste the potatoes as they should be. I don’t want it accessorized; very similar to the women I’ve dated and fallen in love with through the years.

Going back, the knuckles I tasted in Germany were so close to Pinoys’ ‘Crispy Pata’ that until now I haven’t forgotten how it was served to me. I recently saw a segment on TV how it was prepared and cooked and followed the procedure as it was presented. It had a variety of preparation, but the cooking steps were simple, straightforward and easy to follow. The approach was entirely different from the Pinoy’s version of boiling, drying and deep-frying. The cooking procedures between the two are two worlds apart. Different rubs and aromatics were wiped in and around the knuckle which made it even more European and a little more complex as compared with the Asian version. That totally blew my mind. I have cooked and tried it once and liked it. I should love this one more after all the adjustments I have made in each step.

1 Large Pork Hock
1 Small White Onion, chopped
4 cloves of Garlic
½ of a Royal Gala Apple, sliced
Few slices of Ginger
½ bottle/Can of Beer (used Premium German Lager)

Spice Rub:
5 cloves of Garlic, minced to a paste
Coarse Salt
Caraway Powder
Caraway Seeds

Pat dry and score the skin of the pork hock. Generously wipe the spice rub all over the pork hock and set aside.

In a roasting pan, scatter the chopped White Onions, Royal Gala Apple, Ginger and Garlic and lay the pork hock on top of the pan.

Pour the beer into the roasting pan, add a little water and shove in a pre-heated 325’C oven for 2-3 hours, depending on the size of the pork hock.

Prick the skin of the hock every now and then when checking for doneness, and let the hock rest at room temperature before serving.


Roasted Potatoes:

Peel and boil white potatoes until tender.

Strain and let it cool before pan-frying with oil and butter. Add some seasonings and herbs and shove it in the oven until golden.

This isn’t your usual ‘Pata’ known as ‘Crispy’ to many. It was roasted similar to roasting a Whole Chicken, Leg of Lamb or a Roast Beef. The texture of the meat of the hock, after roasting for almost three hours, turned very, very soft and juicy; similar to other kinds of meat when roasted ‘low and slow.’ What stood out were the spices, especially the Caraway Seeds and the Caraway Powder; so unlikely of ‘Crispy.’Sage is always a perfect spice with any pork dish. The skin didn’t turn out to be as crunchy when deep-fried as many Filipinos are familiar with, but definitely the meat stayed very tender and almost ‘fall of the bones.’ It was still a perfect beer match. That was all I wanted, and I didn’t go through the fuzz of heavy deep-frying and long hours of boiling and braising. That mattered the most. After being splattered with all sorts of grease the entire day, more grease at home can be already mortifying. I would relax and let the oven do the work for me.

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When I was growing up, my parents and I used to eat out and try different restaurants after celebrating the Sunday Mass. Moreover, during the course of the summer break, I had the opportunity to see some places which, when looking back, I had never realized how lucky I was as a teen to be able to travel. My family and I went to Europe and some parts of the United States, and what I saw along that path of my life inspired me to become a 'Chef.' The 'whites' they wore for me, during those growing-up and finding 'myself' years, portrayed a sort of fascinating and powerful figure in an extremely sophisticated, higly inviting and invigorating work place; and still maintain an unblemished and clean uniform after a very busy service. That picture of a 'Chef' stuck to my head for so many years.

True enough, with meager resources left to spend for the youngest, that dream never happened. Life went on. I went to university and studied an insignificant course, Business Management, and after graduating, I ended up working as a Credit and Financial Analyst in the banking industry in Manila; slugging it out in the corporate arena in Makati. It was the first taste of being called a 'yuppie' and was almost always looking forward to an after-office eating and drinking extravaganza in the expanding and growing Makati Business District; and, of course, the weekend.

Anyway, forging ahead to my life today, that dream as 'Chef' stayed in the back of my mind all the time that when I left the Philippines for Toronto in 2003; and after finally settling down on my own in 2005, I had started studying Professional Culinary Arts Courses in the City College to get that almost long-forgotten 'dream' going again. It was a Continuing Education Course, and more or less, students who have also shifted careers or who were trying to find work (like myself) as a newly landed found ourselves working with pots, knives and fire which I believe and I felt, everyone in class have never, ever touched during their past, professional lives.

Since then, I have been working in and out of different kitchens; flipping eggs and hamburgers, grilling steaks, shoving bread and chicken in a 500'C oven, and almost anything that can be either deep-fried or toasted just to serve hungry, sometimes pesky, customers. I became a 'grease' cook; a short-order cook with no definite place of employment, and definitely not a 'Chef.'

My articles are based on the after-thoughts of my past and present day experiences in this fast-paced, starkling, and sometimes disheveling kitchen environment. I never imagined that a kitchen 'worklife' turned that way as against the 'Ideal' environment I had thought about for years. No regrets. During this journey, I've discovered food which I've never thought I'd be able to taste. I learned to appreciate wine and travel more; now that I have understood the culture of food to society. That was non-existent when I was growing up.

This journey has not ended. I'm still discovering and still learning. It's a tough industry to be in and for what's next or for where I'll finally end up in remain a sordid mystery.

One thought on “German Pork Knuckle (Schweinshaxe)

  1. Very brave! I’ve never tried cooking this at home, always have them at restos lol…My mil’s husband knows the difference between the crispy pata and this…hihi. The Greman potato salad though is made with onions, vinegar and herbs, no mayonnaise so you’d like it together with your portion of a Schweinshaxe :)
    Marie recently posted Salmon Caviar and Smoked Salmon on Pasta

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