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Stephen Jackson: Hooked on ham hock

THIS week I thought I’d persevere with some springtime cookery, despite what’s going on up in the sky.

THIS week I thought I’d persevere with some springtime cookery, despite what’s going on up in the sky.

Seems we’re in for another raindrop-dodging summer, doesn’t it? Though, as I write this it’s a glorious day outside, the bluebells nodding in a gentle warm breeze, and I thought that it’d be a perfect time to make this dish of toasted muffins smothered in crispy twice-cooked ham and fresh parsley sauce.

Muffins With Ham Hock, Parsley Sauce & Fried Eggs
Muffins With Ham Hock, Parsley Sauce & Fried Eggs

It practically jumps off the plate; it’s so fresh and zingy. I was thinking of breakfast-y recipes the other day, and got hooked on ideas of things involving ham.

I don’t eat ham much, but when I do I always tell myself that I should do it more often. It’s a cracking meat, terribly versatile, and often very good for the pocket.

I picked up my ham hock for £2.50, and it was an enormous beast! Its dense texture and rich, highly-seasoned flavour also means that a little ham goes a long way.

Cooking-wise it’s a great meat to work with, adding big flavour to all sorts of dishes, especially those that are high in carbs and starch.

Once you’ve cooked the ham hock as per this recipe, it will flake into all manner of really great dishes.

It would be lovely stirred into a big pot of Puy lentils loaded with plenty of root vegetables, onions and garlic.

How about adding a few of those crispy roast shreds to a lovely springtime risotto with peas and snipped chives? Or perhaps go for the simple option – just bake a large jacket potato, and mix the ham (with maybe a handful of tasty Cheddar or Lancashire cheese?) in with the flesh, before refilling the spud and baking to golden, bubbling perfection? That’s a brilliant supper dish, especially with a nice glass of something rich and red.

I toyed with the classic Pacific region combination of ham and pineapple too – it’s one of my favourites. The sweetness and tropical aroma of the pineapple works wonders with the saltiness and luscious fat of ham.

This muffin recipe would really work well with a slice of deep-roasted fresh pineapple sitting beneath the crispy ham and fried egg – just leave out the parsley sauce.

You could even leave out the muffin altogether, and switch to a lovely crisp potato cake or rösti; maybe even something as simple as a stack of golden, rustling fat chips – there’s a world of combinations just waiting for you to try out. But this particular variation plays on the classic theme of ham and parsley, which is a winning combination. The fresh, aromatic flavour of parsley seems to balance perfectly with the saltiness of ham, whether it’s in a lovely chilled jellied terrine (the classic French ‘jambon persillé’) or chopped roughly and strewn over a grilled gammon steak.

Here’s one time you should insist on using English curly parsley; flatleaf is all very well but lacks the intense, aromatic flavour required to make sauces.

It’s more for chopping last-minute and flinging over things just before serving.

This dish conjures up memories of home-cooked dinners of big roast ham joints and sautéed potatoes, all smothered in thick, emerald-hued parsley sauce, yet adds a little elegance.

The shredded ham hock also adds a textural dimension, offering a combination of soft, tender shreds with the occasional delightful crispy bit! Feel free to play around with the recipe as you see fit, but do give ham a go soon. It’s terrific stuff. Aprons on!

For the ham hock:

1 large ham hock, about 1kg

1 carrot, chopped

1 onion, chopped

4 sticks celery, chopped

A few parsley stalks

2 tsp black peppercorns

For the parsley sauce:

420ml fresh milk

1 thick slice of onion

1 bayleaf

10 whole black peppercorns

A pinch of ground mace

25g plain flour

40g butter

1 x 110g packet fresh curly parsley

1 tbsp double cream

1 tsp lemon juice

S&P

Extras:

4 fresh muffins

4 fresh, free-range eggs

A little olive oil

A little butter

A few herbs for garnish

Method:

Soak the hock for a few hours in a couple of changes of cold fresh water.

Place in a deep saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil.

Pour away the water, then add the vegetables and enough fresh cold water to cover.

Bring to the boil and lower the heat to a very gentle simmer.

Cover and cook for a couple of hours, topping up with water as necessary.

When the ham is very tender (it should be coming away from the bone), remove from the pan and allow it to cool to a temperature your hands can handle.

Flake the ham into fine shreds with your hands, being careful to remove any gristly bits, and set the flaked meat to one side. Make the parsley sauce now. Wash and finely chop the parsley.

In a saucepan, gently heat the milk with the onion, bay leaf, mace and peppercorns until just bubbling. In a separate pan.

Melt the butter and, when bubbling, add the plain flour and whisk to a smooth paste.

Lower the heat and strain in the hot milk, whisking until you have a lovely smooth white béchamel sauce.

Add the cream and season with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Finally, throw in the chopped parsley.

If you like, you can blend half of the chopped parsley with the béchamel, and add the rest to the bright green sauce.

To serve, reheat the ham by tossing it in a little olive oil and roasting in a hot oven until it becomes crispy at the edges.

Set 4 eggs to fry (or poach, it’s up to you.) Slice the tops off the muffins and toast until golden, then butter well and pop into warmed bowls.

Divide the ham between the muffins, drizzle with parsley sauce, and top with the egg.

Garnish with herbs (sorrel is wonderful with this dish) and serve immediately.

 

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