Cook Beans With A Ham Hock For Richer, Meatier Flavor

Cooking raw beans from scratch certainly takes more work compared to just opening a can of beans, but all of that effort pays off when you take the first flavor-packed bite. Your homemade beans will have richer flavors because you have more control over what spices and ingredients go into the pot. For example, you can add ham hocks for deeper, meatier flavors. In case you don't know, a ham hock is the joint located between a pig's foot and leg that is typically used to flavor dishes like beans, soups, and stews. 

The inexpensive joint is filled with collagen and fats that release during the slow cooking process and infuse rich umami into the beans. Its flavor tastes like salty and smoky pork, so ham hocks can replace the bacon pieces or chunks of ham that you might typically add to beans for meaty flavor. It's common to use pinto beans with ham hock in Southern cooking, but other varieties, like navy beans, will also benefit from the flavors.

Making more flavorful beans with ham hocks

Cooking beans from scratch can take up to eight hours, so you have to be patient. But that's partly why ham hocks work so well because the meat needs time to break down and release those delicious flavors. Ham hocks come both fresh and frozen in various sizes. If you're cooking a pound of raw beans, one large ham hock or a couple of small ones should work depending on what's available at your butcher or supermarket. 

Some recipes call for up to six ham hocks, so it really depends on the recipe and how much meaty flavor you prefer. You can add the ham hock to the pot of beans from the start and allow the meat to cook along with them for the entire time. Or, for increased flavor, brown the ham hock first. To season, you can add herbs like bay leaves or thyme, spices like chili flakes and cayenne pepper, onions and garlic, or other vegetables like celery and carrots. 

When the beans are ready according to your recipe, remove the hocks, shred off the meat, and return it to the beans before serving. Toss any of the bones or extra fat. You can serve these beans as a complete meal with biscuits, cornbread, or a side of potatoes or greens. And if you have extra ham hocks after cooking your beans, add them to another meal like collard greens or a pot of split pea soup.