A Leg Up

Pork hocks—whether smoked, which makes them ham hocks, or fresh—add soul to many dishes, often transforming mundane ingredients into something special.

Pork hocks—whether smoked, which makes them ham hocks, or fresh—add soul to many dishes, often transforming mundane ingredients into something special. They do just that in such Southern staples as hoppin' john and stewed mustard greens; ditto for the Vietnamese noodle soup called Bun Bo Hue. In that dish, fresh hocks, sliced crosswise into round disks, lend flavor and body to the broth and are great to nibble on as well. But what are pork hocks, exactly? Investigating the matter, we learned that they're just cross sections of a hog's leg, cut from either at or just above the knee joint on the front leg or at or just above the hock joint on the back leg. However you slice them, pork hocks—consisting of skin, bone, meat, collagen, and fat—are the epitome of pork.