Ham Hock and Kale Soup

IMG_0447.JPGOn Saturday we made soup. It was a joint effort. I stared out into the garden (it was a cold day inside and out as misted window panes were being finally replaced and so it was like living in a barn as the saying goes)  and noticed that there was still a small cluster of dwarf kale plants in the raised bed. Kale is not a plant I think of growing much, I have grown the tall and statuesque cavalo nero and one time we grew the flower sprouts because, well we had to see what they were like, my main reason for growing things in my restricted space is often to see it grow and then of course eat it…. The baby kale plants were left over after a big planting session at the Community Garden and so various people took them home to plant out rather than waste them. I took four baby plants home and tucked them in the back of the bed around the end of September.  I take bits and pieces in from my garden so it is a two-way traffic of plants, somewhat random but it worked.


My raised bed in early March is not a wonderfully inspiring sight. It is mostly covered in moss, and there are various interesting weeds and opportunistic poppies growing in it.

I will go out and clear it any day now, I promise. Currently it is home to: some winter ravaged spinach, some tenacious parsley plants, the odd self sown salad leaf, (the red mustard is always popping up) and a slug chewed puntarelle.


So for the soup: Brian chopped up two big handfuls of the rather beautiful kale (protected under netting from hungry pigeons and being dug up by the fox and the cats) a couple of leeks,  two garlic cloves, and the remains of a bunch of celery and sweated them in our big pan. Then I came along and went on the rummage. I collected a tub of ham hock shreds and a tub of frozen gellied ham hock stock from the freezer, awarding myself three gold stars for remembering it was there, then three old frozen parmesan rinds, another gold star,  some dried pearl barley and red lentils (a handful of each went in the soup) and a bowl of saved pasta cooking water from the night before which adds a nice silky softeness to the soup  and two dried bay leaves.

On the subject of ham hocks. These are slightly scary large pieces of pig, which come with their skin and fat on them. I cook them two at a time,  very simply covered in fresh water in a large pan with a few peppercorns and bayleaves, parsley stalks and shallots for a couple of hours simmering away until the meat pulls away from the bone. Then I skin them and take some of the fat off and shred the meat and freeze most of it. We strained the liquid and saved as much as there was room to store  sensibly in the freezer.


( Long rambling aside follows, you can skip this bit and look at the daffodils below instead …I had the most delicious sandwich at the Dulwich Picture Gallery on one of my infrequent London visits last year to see my Dad who has moved to Dulwich.  I am ashamed to say I remember my lunch better than whatever we looked at in the gallery, (I don’t think there was a big exhibition on in there at the time). This sandwich was filled with a mixture of capers and ham hock in some sort of mayo type dressing and thought at the time how nice ham hock shreds were, meaty and tender without being too salty and so I investigated further and found myself buying and processing them.)


The first time I cooked hocks the stock was very salty, so I suspect they may vary in how heavily or how long they have been salted by the butcher. However this time round, it wasn’t nearly as salty and we saved about three quarters of it, there was masses and it started to jellify as it cooled down, which I always think is a good sign, and froze it in little tubs, trying to be organized. I have this bad habit of freezing things and then not using them for years so I am trying to use my buried away freezer foods more regularly. A lot of apple sauce is being eaten at the moment for example!

 I tried one of the pots of stock in a soup a couple of weeks ago but thought, I am sure food people don’t do this, they probably only use chicken or beef stock in their cooking and felt a bit sort of guilty that I was using a meat stock in a vegetable soup, almost as if I was cheating or something. but no more will I feel this way as I finally got a copy of Olia Hercules’ Mamushka cook book and settled down to read it one evening  last week just as you would a good novel. It was a delight of a read! I saw photos and read recipes that validated many of the things I do as well as giving me lots of fresh ideas and inspiration.

Olia uses lots of bone and meat broths in her soups, both beef and pork based and I was very interested. I don’t make bone broths as a rule but I am going to have to be brave and ask the butcher with a sort of casual ‘oh and by the way, could you put a kilo of bones in with my sausages and mince please’ ? way and give him my best smile. Anyway I thought the ham hock stock would be a good substitute and is pretty close to that style of cooking.

I particularly loved the way her salads get tinged with the pink of beetroots, mine do that and can look remarkably scruffy and almost embarassing, which is ridiculous when you think about it. We are so used to the hegemony of food photography, from the recipe cards in the supermarkets to our cook books and all the blogs out there, all shouting for attention, look at me, make me, eat me, there are styles of photos, lighting mantras, things about which way the knife and fork face, angles, all designed to create appetite and longing, the equivalent of fashion supermodel photography. But the difference is this :   we eat with our eyes, but also with our noses and our mouths and our appetite and our memories and emotions.  There is more to eating food than how it looks! That is why a well written cook book works on so many levels, it’s the words and the stories, the pictures painted in my mind, that do it for me every time;  a badly written book with lots of repetitions and standard paragraphs carried over from one recipe to the next becomes incredibly boring no matter how glamorous the photos, and who wants to cook from a boring book?

I will use my ham hock stock with great pride and joy and celebrate the diversity and the ingenuity of cooks everywhere and be ever mindful and grateful that I have access to shops, space to grow what I can and funds to buy food with.


Saturday Morning Ham Hock and Kale soup inspired by Olia Hercules’s  Mamushka


From the freezer

  • 50g of old parmesan rinds
  • 100g of ham hock shreds
  • 250g of ham hock stock
  • From the garden
  • 2 handfuls of dwarf kale, finely shredded
  • Sprigs of ancient parsley

From the greengrocer, the fridge and the cupboard

  • 2 Leeks, sliced and chopped
  • 2 Garlic cloves, sliced
  • 4 sticks of celery, chopped
  • A bit of old shredded Savoy cabbage (says Brian)
  • Pearl Barley (one of my handfuls)
  • Red Lentils (ditto)
  • A litre and a half of pasta boiling water
  • two garden bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • A tablespoon of full fat yoghurt/kefir/sourcream to serve


  1. Sweat the leeks and garlic and celery in olive oil till softened
  2. Add the shredded kale and any other ingredients
  3. Defrost the ham hock stock and add to the pot
  4. Throw in the parmesan rinds and the meat shreds
  5. Throw in the grains and lentils
  6. Add pasta boiling water from the night before (or use fresh water) you should have enough to cover the contents of the pan plus a couple of centimetres on top as the barley and lentils will absorb liquid as they cook
  7. Bring to a gentle boil and cook till the grains and lentils are soft
  8. The cooking itself took about 20—25 minutes
  9. Serve with a big tablespoon of full fat yoghurt stirred in or sour cream if that
  10. is your fancy or kefir if you have it.
  11. Eat with toasted sourdough or on its own. Go on, have another bowl!

Toasted Sesame crusted sourdough


18 thoughts on “Ham Hock and Kale Soup

  1. Elizabeth

    How, I asked myself, can a committed vegetarian enjoy a post about ham hock soup so much? Such engaging writing and fantastic photographs!

    1. Joanna Post author

      I thought if I put ham hock in the title my vegetarian friends could gently skip over this one :) I also thought I should make an alternative version with a Japanese kombu based stock but I haven’t made that yet and one thing I learned is that cooking for the blog is one way to lose touch with reality. In fact I am a bit surprised to have returned to it but if it engages you then that’s brilliant ! Thank you !

  2. narf77

    I swear you have the most spoiled slugs in the U.K. I had to laugh with the “ham hock” being a “joint affair” ;). Mum used ham hocks a lot and always soaked them overnight before processing them. I guess she was the victim of one too many salty results once and affected the “fool me once!” rule. Have you ever made a sticky pork stock reduction like the Japanese do for their ramen? Apparently it is reduced for days and the end results are the stock equivalent of Turkish coffee. As someone who adores food, I completely get using all of the senses to indulge in it’s sensual persuasions. My problem is that I can’t seem to stop indulging and am prone to sensory gluttony at any given time. Oh well, I can indulge from afar and not put on weight OR get drummed out of the vegan confraternity via your posts. Keep em’ coming Ms J, you know we love them :)

    1. Joanna Post author

      Spoiled is not the word for our slugs, they live in luxury, though there is the odd toad around, they mostly have it their own way Fran. I am toying with the idea of eating hosta shoots this spring, having read they are very good to eat, (now I know why they make a slug line for them every year (a slimy bee line). I am guessing that all the cheaper cuts of meat, the ones requiring long cooking and joyful seasoning are well known to those of us who had mothers who cooked well and confidently. Mine was not one of those, though she liked good food,. Strangely she did cook things like tongue and heart in a pressure cooker until one day it exploded violently causing a tsunami of steam etc in the kitchen and our golden retriever tried to leave home….and there was a dish of lambs sweetbreads in white sauce in a hollowed out crusty loaf which appeared from time to time. I don’t think that organ is even offered for sale in England these days … but I don’t remember ever seeing a hock in the house though. So relatively new to me! sorry about the pun, completely unintentional! And I haven’t made the elaborate ramen stock as yet, I have read about it and would like to!

      1. narf77

        The good life is nothing if the threat of “Mr Toad” isn’t just around the corner to keep it interesting. I have just invested in a book by Eric Toensmeier called “Perennial vegetables and Perennial vegetable gardening”. It gives an incredible list of veggies to grow that require very little on your part to keep going. He grows in a temperate climate so they would be right up your alley. Hosta’s are apparently very tasty and that’s why I gave ALL of mine away. You can forget slug and snail damage when a fat hairy possum has decided to decimate your hosta with both hungry paws. I will take some slug chewed remains any day ;). My mum worked as a shearers cook. Part of the perks were that she got to take home all of the “unpopular” cuts of sheep (they would give her a couple of carcasses that she had to butcher herself) and so we lived on hogget and mutton shanks as kids. I recently saw a pair of tiny lamb shanks for $16. Back then they couldn’t give them away! Like the 4 Yorkshiremen “we were LOOKY!” ;)

        I ate all of the entraily bits, even liver that wasn’t my favourite, but I drew the line at tripe. I HATED tripe and onion day. You could smell when mum had cooked herself tripe and onions all the way down the road. We ate tongue and hearts and all sorts of things but mum was an excellent cook so we certainly appreciated the heck out of all of her offerings (except that tripe!)

        Try that ramen stock. “Sticky lip-smacking” is the bit that gets me. Having been an aficionado of Laksa in my past, I fully appreciate a big bowl of thick, headily oriental scented, stock base cram packed with Asian goodies. I can only begin to imagine how gorgeous a bowl of quality ramen would be. “Go at it!” :)

  3. ardysez

    This post made me smile several times, and think back upon the slow cooked greens and pork hock meals of the deep South in the USA. I often cook with my taste and my memory of tastes and it is not particularly photogenic, but it certainly tastes good. Well, done, for helping us overcome some inhibitions about a few things, Joanna. I’ll have what she’s having :) xx

    1. Joanna Post author

      Wow of course, Deep South cooking is full of pork and greens isn’t it? i suppose in my mind it is gumbo and bbbq but maybe that is for feast days. I don’t know much about that cooking at all. Everyday cooking and family feeding are the gaps that are being filled in in the cookbook publishing sector these days and I suppose by blogging too? . The food that people eat at home as opposed to feasts and celebrations. Celia once said to me that she makes dishes from round the world as a way of visiting and getting a feeling of other places that she may never get to visit. At its best food blogging has done that for many people and created friendships that sustain. And you are welcome to have a bowl of my Euro-Deep-South-Tassie soup anytime!

  4. heidiannie

    This is such a fun post- I often look at the perfect photos and know that my food tastes much better than it looks in a picture (a small part of my suspended blogging) . Your soup and garden kale look very tasty and delicious! Lovely post and your bread shot…even more lovely!

    1. Joanna Post author

      The photographing thing is a real deal breaker. I think I am used to photographing the bread bit and trying to show the detail of crumb and crust, or get an angle that shows the cuts opening and thing like that. But I always want to photograph my food just as it is cooking or being served and there is usually steam obscuring everything and the LED kitchen lights don’t cast a particularly lovely glow on my food. I think a lot of food is shot cold, sprayed with glycerine or whatever. Brian told me that chickens are often painted with colouring and shot raw for advertising as a raw chicken looks plumper, makes you think doesn’t it? I am revisiting blogging for a bit, maybe because it is winter and cold and maybe because I miss the chat too! X jo

  5. Misky

    That’s a splendid looking soup. We are deep in soup here, also. I make a huge batch of it, and we ate half – freeze the other half. Makes for easy suppers when I’m too lazy to think about a balanced meal. And it’s lovely to read one of your posts again; a joy to read.

    1. Joanna Post author

      We have just got to the end of this one, made enough for three hearty meals. I occasionally buy soups in the supermarket and they always have a strange metallic tang which must be something to do with their processing, much prefer home made like you do ! Thanks for reading Marilyn xx

      1. Misky

        I know that metallic taste – always thought it was a preservative (MSG perhaps?) or an additive or some sort.

  6. Karin Anderson

    Isn’t it deeply gratifying if you actually remember what you have for leftovers in the freezer – and then use it?
    Being a German, I grew up with ham hocks (some people eat them boiled with all the surrounding fat – yuck) to add flavor to soups, but, also (and preferably) roasted and crisp. Here in the US I use ham hock to make Baked Beans.

    1. Joanna Post author

      I think everyone who reads this blog seems to have grown up with them except me Karin! Yes, it is very gratifying, makes up for the guilt you feel when you find the not very nice thing you hid in the freezer hoping you will feel better about it when you next see it, but don’t….. I know there was a thing a while back here for making dishes with lamb shanks, which must be the same part more or less as a hock and they are now very expensive, as are beef short ribs, another trendy cut here. Hey ho. I have used belly pork to make baked beans in the past, so very similar I guess.

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