It is the beginning of Fall and Oktoberfest, the world’s largest Volksfest (beer festival and travelling funfair) is in full swing in Munich, Germany in the state of Bavaria, which began on September 21, this year. The annual event is a 16-day folk festival that hosts more than 6 million people from around the world. Locally, it is often simply called the Wiesn, after the colloquial name of the fairgrounds (Theresienwiese) themselves. The Oktoberfest is an important part of Bavarian culture, having been held since 1810 to commemorate the marriage of King Ludwig I (1786–1868) and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen on October 12, 1810.
King Ludwig I and and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen
The citizens of Munich were invited to attend the festivities held on the fields in front of the city gates to celebrate the royal event. The fields were named Theresienwiese (“Theresa’s Meadow”) in honour of the Crown Princess, and have kept that name ever since, although the locals have since abbreviated the name simply to the “Wiesn”. Horse races, in the tradition of the 15th-century Scharlachrennen (Scarlet Race at Karlstor), were held on 18 October to honor the royal newlyweds.
Horse race at the Oktoberfest in Munich, 1823 by Adam Pferderennen
Other cities across the world also hold Oktoberfest celebrations, modeled after the original Munich event.
As an American, growing up in Germany, it was one of the events my family looked forward to every year.
And with that being said, there is a ton of food and beer served during the festival. Most notably,
And I am sure you are asking yourself exactly what is Schweinshaxe? Pronounced as SH-vines-HAKS-eh, it is basically a tender and juicy pork knuckle wrapped in a salty and roasted-crisp skin. Being the quintessential Oktoberfest dish, it makes for the perfect pairing with a big stein of your favorite beer and side dishes like boiled potatoes, spaetzle, sauerkraut or braised red cabbage.
Still finding yourself wondering what a pork knuckle is? Well, Schweinshaxe starts with a cut of pork you’re probably not too familiar with: the knuckle. Yes, pigs have knuckles too. It is the joint between the tibia/fibula and the metatarsals of the foot of a pig, where the foot was attached to the hog’s leg. It is the portion of the leg that is neither part of the ham proper nor the ankle or foot (trotter), but rather the extreme shank end of the leg bone (See the Dark Pink Colour on the Figure Below).
Figure 1. Location of the pork knuckles in dark pink.
But I am still guessing that you are still wondering what a pork knuckle really is. Am I right?
Well, you may be more familiar with the ham hock, which is the very same bone-in hunk of pork leg known as the pork knuckle found in the culinary offerings of traditional African American soul food. Ham hocks are essential ingredients for the distinct flavor in soul food.
My Grandmother would use ham hocks to season her cooked vegetables. In the antebellum South, enslaved Africans would often use this discard part of the pig to season various types of greens. Turnips, collards, kale and mustard greens were slow cooked with one or two ham hocks tossed in for a little extra flavor and a little protein to be added to the slave diet. The pork contains just the right amount of salty accent to provide a pleasing taste with most greens, without the addition of any extra salt or other seasonings. Traditionally in Southern households, some modern home cooks choose to serve the meat with the greens, while others will remove the hocks before placing the dish on the dinner table.
Also in our household, beans and peas were often seasoned with ham hocks. For example, my Grandmother would take pinto beans, navy beans, crowder peas or black-eyed peas and place them in a large Dutch oven with the meat and allowed to them slow cook over the course of several hours. As the beans and peas soften and cook through, the flavor from the ham seeps into the texture of the peas, leaving a pleasing taste. Today most Southern cooks would utilize a crockpot to slow cook bean and peas with the traditional flavor of ham hocks.
In the Mid-Atlantic States, in rural regions settled by the Pennsylvania Dutch, hocks are a commonly used ingredient for making a kind of meat loaf called scrapple. Eisbein is the name of the joint in north German, and at the same time the name of a dish of roasted ham hock, called Schweinshaxe in Bavaria, Stelze in Austria and Wädli in Switzerland. Golonka is a very popular Polish barbecued dish using this cut. Ham hocks are also popular when boiled with escarole, more commonly called endives, in Italian-American cuisine. Fläsklägg med rotmos is a Swedish dish consisting of cured ham hocks and a mash of rutabaga and potatoes, served with sweet mustard. In Canada, and particularly Montreal, ham hocks are referred to as “pigs’ knuckles” and are served in bistros and taverns with baked beans. In northern Italy ham hocks are referred to as stinco, and is often served roast whole with sauerkraut.
Fläsklägg med rotmos
Where To Find Pork Knuckle
Ham hocks are most often taken from the front section of the leg of the pig, in the general area of the ankle. In these modern times, ham hocks are usually obtained from a butcher shop or the meat department of a supermarket. The butcher will slice a portion of the meat and it is generally a semi-thick cut that is packaged in groups of two or three hocks.They are usually labeled as “pork hocks”. They may be purchased raw or fresh, as well as smoked and cured. Cured varieties have a relatively long shelf life, which makes them ideal for storage and use over a longer period of time.
It’s a stubby piece of meat, covered in a layer of skin and fat. Because the meat is not usually considered ideal for serving as alone, they are generally less expensive than purchasing bacon or ham steaks to use in flavoring various types of vegetables. Chefs recommend only using the meat once, as it does not retain much flavor after it has been cooked.
All in all, give yourself 24 to 48 hours to prepare this dish. It is something that cannot be rushed. Make sure to look for the meatiest pork knuckles that you can at your local supermarket or butcher shop. Trust me, a whole roasted pork knuckle will be so incredibly satisfying, especially after a long day of stein hoisting and dancing!
Schweinshaxe (German Pork Knuckle)
Four 24-ounce pork hocks (knuckles)
3 medium white onions, thickly sliced
3 celery stalks, roughly chopped
2 bay leaves
2 garlic cloves, halved
2 Tablespoons coarse salt
One 12-ounce bottle of beer
1 1/4 cup beef broth
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Braised red cabbage
Spätzle (Click the link for the recipe)
The Day Before: Open the pork packaging and let the skin dry uncovered in the refrigerator overnight. This helps the skin to get nice and crisp.
The following day:
Preheat the oven to 350° F.
Place the onions, celery and bay leaves in the bottom of a 8×8-inch baking dish.
Rub the skin of each pork hock with half of a garlic clove. After rubbing, add the garlic to the onions and celery in the baking dish. Rub about 1/2 tablespoon of salt into the skin of each pork hock. Nestle the hocks, meaty side down, in the vegetables.
Pour the beer around the hocks. Add the beef broth.
Roast the hocks for 3 hours and baste them every 15 minutes with the beer and broth liquid in the pan. Check the hocks ever hour to be sure they haven’t fallen over and there is still enough moisture in the bottom of the pan. Add more beef broth or hot water if the pan appears to be scorching. Roast the hocks until the skin is crisp and the meet is fall-apart, fork tender. Remove the bay leaves and discard.
To serve, add the pan vegetables to a plate and top with a hock. Drizzle with the sauce. Serve boiled potatoes, späetzle, braised red cabbage or sauerkraut on the side. Each hock is traditionally served individually, with a fork and sharp knife, but most people find it easier to enjoy the crisp skin by just digging in with their hands.
Sarah Ozimek (2015). “Schweinshaxe (German Pork Knuckle)”. Accessed May 17, 2019. https://www.curiouscuisiniere.com/german-roasted-pork-knuckle/
Wisegeek.com (2019). “What are Ham Hocks?” Accessed September 23, 2019. https://www.wisegeek.com/what-are-ham-hocks.htm
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