About 20 years ago during a short stay in Paris I went to the famous Table d’Anvers restaurant. The menu featured a very strange dish that caught my attention: veal head with chocolate sauce. I took the risk to order it and was richly rewarded. It was a fantastic expecrience, the dark chocolate harmonised excellently with the gelatinous meat.
I have always wanted to make something similar, so here is a creation using pork hock. To get the meat as tender as possible I used the steaming method described in Fuchsia Dunlop’s “Steamed pork knuckle with ginger sauce” recipe from her book Land of Plenty on Sichuan cuisine. The pork hock has first its skin crisped over a flame, then it is simmered and finally steamed.
But don’t worry, I have no intention to make this dish even weirder by introducing Asian aromas. The seasoning is strictly Western. There is thyme to flavour the meat and red wine as well as mild ancho chile to add some depth to the sauce.
Ingredients (serves 2):
- 1 pork hock of ca. 1.2 kg
- 1 carrot
- 1 onion
- 1 parsnip
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 3 bay leaves
- 5 cloves
- A good handful of fresh thyme sprigs (rosemary should work as well)
For the sauce:
- 150 ml low acid red wine (Merlot or Austrian Zweigelt work well)
- 50 to 100 g dark chocolate with 70% or more cocoa in small pieces
- 2 thyme sprigs
- 1 teaspoon powdered ancho chile
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 15 g butter
- Either 1/2 rack of baby back ribs or 150 ml veal stock
- Gas stove or blowtorch
- Preparation: 20 minutes
- Cooking time: 3 hours
Brown the skin of the pork hock over a gas burner or with a blowtorch. This may smell of burnt hair, but don’t bother. Be careful because there can be small flare-ups from fat dripping into the flames. Scrape off any black bits afterwards.
If you want to cook from scratch you can use the stock from simmering the pork hock as a sauce base. In this case it is advisable to also use some additional ribs to get a richer stock. But pork stock normally is not particularily flavourful, so you can also use prepared veal (or beef) stock.
In a large stockpot with water heat the hock with the vegetables and spices except the thyme. Also add the ribs, if you plan on creating the sauce from scratch. Simmer uncovered for about 45 minutes on low heat, skim off any scum that appears on the surface.
Carefully remove the bones from the hock. Cut the meat into several chunks that all have their fair share of skin. Season with salt and pepper. Place the thyme sprigs on a deep plate and cover them with the pork chunks. Make sure each chunk is in contact with the herbs. Put the plate into your steamer and steam for 2 hours.
For making the sauce from scratch, put the bones back into the pot and turn up the heat. We want the stock to concentrate as much as possible but the bones should stay inside because the 45 minutes so far were not a long time for extracting their goodness. This process may last for another hour or so.
For the sauce, sautee the shallot in butter in a saucepan until translucent, then deglaze with 150 ml wine and add the same amount of stock. Also add the ancho chile and the two time sprigs, then reduce to 50%. Shortly before serving, strain to remove the shallot and the thyme, then gradually add the chocolate. The perfect amount is very much a matter of taste. Finally season the sauce with salt and pepper to taste.
I recommend a potato-based side dish, for example a leek and potato mash.