Ham hocks are really the bottom of the shank (leg) of the pig very close to the ankle, or sometimes with the ankle. This part of the pig contains a lot of connective tissue, so besides adding great flavor to the dish, ham hocks add a wonderful rich silky mouthfeel as the collagen in the connective tissue melts out.
We generally use ham hocks in braises, soups, and other liquid-based dishes. The meat braises slowly while releasing its flavor. When the dish is done, you can pull off the bits of meat and put them back in the dish. Or you can do what we do: hide them from everyone else and eat them ourselves!
Oh, and we almost forgot our favorite thing about ham hocks: they're cheap! You can usually buy them for just a dollar or two, and they freeze well if you find them on sale. Ask your butcher about them if you don't see them displayed.
Here are a few recipes from our archives that call for ham hocks or that could definitely use one!
How do you use ham hocks in your cooking?