Arriving at work and being presented with new ingredients to play with can be a challenge or sometimes a chore. I ambled into work this Thursday past and three items were waiting for me; a few smoked ham hocks, a pile of Granny Smith apples and a note that simply read - "Make a ham hock and apple soup for lunch special"
The weather has really started to bite with wintery chill in Sydney these last few weeks and rich, warming soups are the perfect fare to scare away those bone-numbing and icy blasts rolling around town. The ham hocks in question are one and the same as those used in the fabulous pea and ham soup which I make every winter. If you have never made it I urge you to try simonc's fabulous and completely faithful-to-the-original recipe. The hocks are simply pork shins that have been thoroughly hot-smoked, lending a deep and satisfying smoky flavour to the finished soup. In addition, they are by nature rich and gelatinous, which gives the soup a rib-sticking and lip-smacking texture that is just the thing in winter.
My first thought when presented with the apples was "why try and improve on perfection?" Well, I am glad I made the soup regardless - it was fantastic. The apples add a wonderful sweet counterpoint to the rich, salty and smoky hocks, and the addition of potatoes gives the soup a thick texture that split peas gave the original. If the weather is getting cool in your part of town, this soup is the perfect thing to warm you up (along with a cuddly friend - of course)
1 smoked ham hock¹ (roughly 500 - 800 gms or 1 - 1 1/2 lbs)
3 cooking apples² (375 gms or 3/4 lb)
1 desiree potato (250 gms or 1/2 lb)
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
1 bay leaf
1 litre chicken stock (or use water)
Sherry vinegar (or other good quality, light vinegar)
Freshly ground black pepper
Place the hock, onion, bay leaf and stock in a large heavy-based saucepan or stock pot. Add a little water if the stock doesn't cover the hock. Bring to the boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Allow to gently bubble away for about an hour.
In the mean time, peel the potato, cut it into large chunks and place into a bowl of water to prevent it from browning. Peel and core the apples and cut into quarters, then place in a large bowl of water along with the juice of the lemon.
Take four of the apple quarters and cut into thin slices. Melt a walnut-size piece of butter in a sauté pan until it smells nutty, and then add the apple slices, cooking until they are softened and lightly browned. Add a slug of sherry vinegar (about 1/2 a tablespoon) and shake the pan to combine. Remove from the heat. This step is optional, as it is only a garnish.
Once the soup has bubbled away for an hour the hock should be getting nice and tender. Add a little more water if it the liquid starts to get too low. Drain the potato and add it to the soup. Cook for another 15 minutes, then drain the remaining apples and add them to the soup. After a final 10 minutes of simmering the apples and potatoes should be soft.
Remove the hock from the soup and allow to cool. Grab the bay leaf out as well. Let the stock and vegetables cool down a bit, then puree in a food processor, or crush up with a potato masher. Try and leave a little bit of chunky texture to the soup. Check for salt and pepper - but remember, the hock is pretty salty - you might not need much extra.
Once the hock has cooled enough to handle, peel away the skin and discard. Pull the meat off the bone and chop into small pieces, then add it back to the soup.
When it comes time to serve, re-heat gently, ladle into bowls and top with the sautéed apple slices, if you are using them. Makes roughly 4 large or 6 small bowls.
¹ You could also use the same weight in bacon bones, but you wont get as much meat, just the ham bone flavour.
² They aren’t common in Australia, so I’ve never used them, but ascorbic tells me that Cox's orange pippin apples are great for cooking. If they are available, try them in this recipe.