Turkey, turkey, turkey. You say Thanksgiving, first thing everyone pictures is a wattle-necked gobbler. Then they think dry, tough, chewy: these are not the words you want associated with your home cooking.
Some of you might think stuffing or cornbread dressing is the best item on your Thanksgiving table. Stuffing and dressing are certainly scrumptious, but they’re side dishes, and so, left out of the running for best holiday plate. It’s really no contest. Ham hocks are the best Thanksgiving dish. A thick, cheap, fatty, bone-in slab of pork, braised slowly over low temperature, these ham hocks are tenderly simmered in a delicious bath of stock and cola rendering a more delicious, more juicy and more flavourful meat to adorn your holiday table than any turkey, deep-fried or baked.
This is a very easy recipe that lets bold flavours sit at the head of the table without too much fuss in the kitchen. These braised ham hocks stew in Asian staples, like soy and hoisin, with a sweet American classic, cola, to build depth and subtlety that soaks up into a hearty cut of meat until it slips free of the bone. A pot of these cola braised ham hocks will make your whole house smell like the sweet savoury salty sticky bits that everybody wants on their plate at Thanksgiving.
Cola Braised Ham Hocks Recipe
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 3-8 hours
Serves 8-12 people
- 4 – 6 ham hocks
- pork neck bones
- 1L/4C of bone broth (substitute any kind of stock)
- 750ml/3C of your favourite cola (Mine is a Canadian classic, A & W Root Beer)
- 125ml/1/2C soy sauce
- 30ml/2tbsp oyster sauce
- 30ml/2 tbsp hoisin sauce
- 30ml/2 tbsp Chinese five spice
- 15ml/1 tbsp apple cider vinegar or black rice vinegar
- 15ml/1tbsp tomato paste or red bean curd (for depth and colour)
- 1 thumb-sized chunk of ginger, roughly chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 whole dried chiles (chipotles add a bit of smoke, but whatever works)
- 2 scallions, roughly chopped
- 1 white onion, chopped
- Salt and pepper
- Preheat oven to 150C/300F.
- Heat up broth/stock in a pot until it reaches boiling point.
- In a large crock pot or Dutch oven layer up ham hocks, seasoning each piece of meat on both sides before placing it in the pot, then weigh down with seasoned neck bones.
- In a mixing bowl, stir together all ingredients of cola braise except stock, then pour over ham hocks and bones.
- Pour simmering broth over meat and braising liquid. If liquid does not reach the top of your pot, add water until it is sufficiently full to cover all the meat.
- Place in oven and braised for a minimum of 3 hours.
This dish will only get better with time, cooking for a whole day will allow the flavours to fully come together, while breaking down the tendons and connective tissue in the meat, resulting in that tender fall off the bone, melt in your mouth yum yum.
Serve & Plate:
- Pull out each piece of meat and gently slide out the bones, then plate the meat on a serving platter. If strained, the braising liquid can be boiled down, or thickened with a corn starch slurry, to make an amazing cola gravy. Ham hock leftovers and remaining gravy will make awesome pulled pork sandwiches for the rest of the week.
The first time I made Lion’s Head Meatballs (紅燒獅子頭), I forgot to write down the recipe. I had looked at a hundred variations, but none of them stuck. I planned to serve the wok-fried then braised meatballs with bok choy, then finish them with Sichuan ‘strange flavor’ sauce (Guaiwei 怪味) to add a bit of lip smacking flavour to what seemed like a plain sort of meat and greens dish with a punchy name. When I got home, annoyed at myself for having lost the recipe I wanted to riff on, I unpacked my groceries and realized I had compounded my mistake and somehow bought ground turkey instead of pork. Thus, this crackpot Chinese-American Thanksgiving holiday mashup recipe was born.
The dish works like a charm for a bunch of reasons: turkey meat is primarily dark and packed with rich, gamey flavour, but famously dry and texturally boring. The meatballs are heavily seasoned and fried, giving a deep caramelized brown to the exterior and a bit of crunch to the exterior while sealing in the natural juices. Then, they’re braised in chicken stock suffusing the potentially dry meat with succulent moisture and ensuring a delicious and juice-packed meatball. The Sichuan strange flavour sauce has a tahini and sesame base, ingredients not native to Sichuan which were introduced via the Silk Road, hence the unique name. The nutty chilli sauce adds a layer of salty sour sweet and spicy umami bang to the dish that will give you a bit of leo pride when you lay it down on the table beside the sliced cardboard, dry beast meat everyone else is serving.
Lion’s Head Meatball Recipe (紅燒獅子頭)
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 35-40 minutes
Makes 8-10 meatballs, serves 4-6 people
- 900g/2 lb ground turkey
- 30ml Shaoxing Rice Wine
- 45ml soy sauce
- 15ml sesame oil
- 15ml neutral oil
- 10ml cornstarch
- 2 scallions, slivered
- 1 finger of ginger, in matchsticks
- 200ml Shaoxing Rice Wine
- 500ml chicken broth, simmering
- 45ml soy sauce
- 45 ml neutral oil
- 30ml tahini
- 15ml chinkiang black rice vinegar
- 15ml sesame oil
- 10ml sugar
- 20g ginger, roughly chopped
- 20g garlic, smashed
- 10g Sichuan peppers
- 2 whole dried chilis
- In a mixing bowl, beat together turkey, soy, shaoxing wine, and sesame oil until the meat forms a smooth paste.
- Stir in cornstarch and neutral oil, then form 10-12 large meatballs, cover and refrigerate for 15-20 minutes.
- Heat oil in wok or frying pan until smoking point. Add ginger, garlic, chilis, Sichuan peppers and scallions.
- Remove from heat and stir rapidly for 30 second as the oil cools.
- Blend mixture in a food processor, coffee grinder or mortar. Stir in remaining ingredients and set aside. (Note: this is an awesome all purpose umami rich dipping sauce.)
Meatballs (Not using a wok):
- If not using a wok, line a roasting pan or crock pot with cleaned and stemmed leaves of bok choy. Preheat oven to 350F.
- Heat a frying pan over a medium flame, coat in a thin layer of neutral oil, rolling oil around the cooking surface.
- In two or three batches, fry the meatballs, cooking evenly on all surface areas. As they brown, set meatballs on waiting bok choy leaves.
- When the meatballs are all browned and set aside, deglaze your frying pan with shaoxing wine, add ginger matchsticks and slivered scallions and stir rapidly as moisture evaporates.
- When the wine sauce is reduced by half pour it over the meatballs, add simmering chicken stock.
- Cover with aluminum or parchment and place in the oven for 20-25 minutes.
Meatballs (With wok):
- Heat wok over high flame, coat in a thin layer of neutral oil, rolling oil around the cooking surface.
- At smoking point, add meatballs and roll around cooking surface to brown, careful not to burn as you must work fast.
- Once the meatballs have all browned, push to the side of cooking surface, deglaze wok with shaoxing wine, and add ginger matchsticks and slivered scallions, toss mixture together as moisture evaporates.
- Slip bok choy leaves under meatballs, add simmering chicken stock, and cover wok with a large lid. Turn down heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
Serve & Plate:
- Serve as Turkey Lion’s Head Meatballs in a larger meal, such as a Thanksgiving or a pot luck. Plate meatballs on bok choy leaves and drizzle with odd sauce.
- Don’t ditch the broth! Make a soup, or freeze for stock.
- Alternatively, if you’re making Turkey Lion’s Head Meatballs for a weekday dinner or your family, serve swimming in the broth, atop noodles or rice. These meatballs and their cooking broth make a hearty and pungent soup, served over a starch.
- This dish will be the most talked about addition to any holiday dinner. It tastes delicious, looks intense and has a bad ass name. It might even be healthy.