A Luxurious Homemade Broth Starts With Ham Hocks

We aren't going to tell you ham hocks are essential to a great broth, just that if you want your broth to be restaurant-level luxurious, there is no better ingredient to get the job done. A good broth isn't just flavorful, it's silky and smooth, with just enough oil to give it a pleasant body. Ham hocks are a way to anchor your broth — bringing in that delicious melty fat and imparting the deep satisfying flavor of marrow. 

Ham hocks, which you may also see under the less-than-appetizing name "pork knuckles," are the section of a pig's leg that connects to its feet. The name is a bit of a misnomer because it's not actually from the ham section of a pig, but ham hocks are typically cured and smoked like many hams are. Because it comes from a heavily worked part of the pig, it is a real tough hunk of bone and meat that requires slow cooking to break down, but it is packed with flavor and fat. That combination of long cooking and flavor makes it the perfect meaty base for soups and stews like the classic ham and bean. Even if ham isn't the first taste you're looking for, it can act as a great base for building on and will help thicken your broth to give it that luxurious feel.

Ham hocks have lots of collagen for broth

Part of what makes ham hocks tough is that it's full of tendons, wrapped around a bone, and covered in skin. While that makes cooking them a pain, those things are overflowing with collagen, gelatin, and fat, which are what give broths that glossy, almost buttery texture. Similar to making a bone broth, slow-cooking ham hocks gradually melts these tough muscles and infuses it into the broth or soup, lending the gelatin and collagen's thickening power to your dish. That tissue and muscle also lend a rich depth to any broth ham hocks are simmered in, with a shimmering coat of fat that boosts every other flavor in your broth.

Ham hocks are no slouch in the flavor department, either. While there isn't much meat on them, they still add a nice smokey, porky element to your food. Not unlike bacon, hocks also have a fair amount of salt, so you should hold back on adding extra salt until you've tasted the final product. Even if you remove a ham hock and don't shred the meat, it will still lend some nice savory notes and umami to the whole thing. So next time some soup is calling your name, grab a ham hock along with everything else, and treat yourself to broth in its highest form.