At the excellent German spot Radler in Chicago (where menu sections include "The Wurst" and "The Best"), chef Nathan Sears is a wizard with pork, even cuts that require a little extra love, like the tough hock. Here, he shares a smart trick to work magic with the shank in a classic Oktoberfest dish:
"We serve a roasted pork shank called schweinhaxe, which is a tricky dish: a ham hock is tough and the skin needs to be broken down, and it doesn't have much meat. I learned a trick from chef Howard Hanna at the Rieger in Kansas City: After brining the hock for four or five days, we poke it all over with a three-pronged sausage prick, then rub it with a mixture of salt and baking soda. (We use a 4:1 ratio, with 100 grams of salt to 25 grams of baking soda). It's a technique that's used all over China and as well as in Central America and Colombia. The holes allow the skin to release its fat while it roasts slowly, the salt breaks down the skin and the baking soda dehydrates it. The skin doesn't puff like the pork rind served in many countries; it becomes rich, crackly and gets a nice browning while the meat inside gets crazy tender. The skin gets dense and crunchy and damn good."