Soup was one thing my mom, a woman who hates to eat and cook, used to make really well. Vegetable soup, chicken soup, or my all-time favorite: ham hock and bean soup. It was important for her to learn to make soup when she married my dad (they even met over a bowl of chicken soup at a diner on Chicago’s north side back in the early 1970s), because in my dad’s family, soup is love—it’s nourishing, hearty, filling, homemade, and cheap, all important factors when you’re bouncing back from near-starvation in war-ravaged Eastern Europe. So for my mom to marry my dad, not only would she have to convert to Judaism (not a problem for this ex-hippie, ex-born again Christian who had a thing for She-Hulk, and discos) but she’d have to learn how to make soup.
As a kid, I remember sitting down to soup with my mom and dad—they divorced when I was five, but the memory of coming together at the table for soup is one of the few happy family memories I have. Dunking fresh bread into soup is a human right, and we’d always have fresh bread with our soup, that is if I was stopped from tunneling out the interior of the bread in time. Otherwise, we’d dunk an eviscerated torpedo of crust into our broth, me while smirking, my dad while scowling.
Ham hock and bean soup was always my favorite. The hocks, which are really kind of like pork ankles, turn water with some rustic mirepoix (chunked carrots, celery, and onions) into a hoggy elixir at once salty, smoky, meaty, and rich. Mom would pull the meat off the hocks and then toss them in the broth with loads of kidney beans and not much else. A hot, massive bowlful with a few pieces of bread on the side was something to look forward to. So when Martha Bayne asked to make a soup for her Brooklyn edition of Soup & Bread (a fundraiser benefiting the New York City Coalition Against Hunger), I knew ham hock soup was the one I’d make.
My boys prefer lentils to beans so I made them with the former. I added some fresh rosemary and thyme and used a ton of black pepper to spice up the chopped and sautéed onions. The hock broth boils for a good few hours on the stove top, and afterward, instead of using the meat in the soup, I selfishly decided to save the hock meat for post-Thanksgiving hash (can you think of a better way to use up mashed potatoes than with pork hock meat and fried eggs? I mean, really!). Instead, I slow roasted a pork shoulder with lots of garlic and herbs, then shredded and chopped the meat and added it to the soup (you won’t use all of the shredded pork–save some to make barbecue pork sandwiches, see below!).
Anna Wolf, proprietress of My Friend’s Mustard and my nextdoor soup neighbor for the event, made an incredible creamy potato-havarti-beer soup with lots of dill (I want that recipe Anna!). She tasted my hock, stock, and lentil soup and said with a big smile—“it tastes like home, like a soup my mom always makes.” Thanks moms.
Hock, Stock, and Lentil Soup
While Thanksgiving is for pulling out all the tricks and finery for a massive feast, don’t forget that you need to eat something while all that cooking is happening. Soup is a masterful friend to have in the fridge, especially this one that re-gifts itself as pulled pork sandwiches (using a whole pork shoulder in a single pot of soup would be obscene! Save some for barbecue pork sandwiches) and day after Thanksgiving mashed potato and hock hash. I also like to toss a few spoonfuls with pasta, some olive oil, and a shower of Parm for a delicious and hearty lunch. You can of course completely skip the pork shoulder and just use the hock meat for the soup—your call (you’d miss out on barbecue pork sandwiches, which would be a real shame).
For the pork shoulder
- 6- to 7-pound boneless pork shoulder
- 1 yellow onion, quartered
- 8 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh rosemary
- 2 tablespoons fresh thyme
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup apple cider
For the hock stock
- 3 ham hocks
- 1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
- 1 carrot, roughly chopped
- 1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 10 black peppercorns
For the soup
- 1 tablespoon grapeseed or other neutral oil
- 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 whole garlic cloves
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
- 1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups brown lentils, rinsed
- Fresh bread for dunking
1. If making the pork shoulder: place the pork on a cutting board, meat-side up. In the bowl of a food processor, purée the onion, garlic, rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper. Smear the mixture all over the pork. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Pour the cider into the bottom of a heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or braising pot, place the pork in the pot, and braise until the meat easily pulls away from the roast, 3 1/2 to 4 hours. Baste the pork every hour or so.
2. While the shoulder braises, make the stock. Fill a large pot with water (8 to 10 cups depending on the size of your pot). Add the hocks, onions, carrots, celery, bay leaf, and peppercorns, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, set the cover askew, and simmer gently for 3 hours.
3. Turn off the heat and place the hocks on a large plate. Set aside to cool and then separate the meat from the fat and bones. If using the hock meat instead of pork shoulder for the soup, then set it aside. If not using the hock meat for the soup, refrigerate or freeze to use another time.
4. Strain the stock through a mesh sieve and into a large bowl. Discard the vegetables and set the stock aside.
5. Remove the roast from the oven and cool completely before shredding the meat and discarding the fat. Set aside 2 to 3 cups of shredded pork for the soup and refrigerate or freeze the rest for barbecue pork sandwiches, pork tacos, or something else tasty.
6. To make the soup: heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring often, until the onions soften, 4 to 5 minutes. Lower the heat to medium-low and continue to cook until the onions are deep golden and the pepper smells toasty, another 4 to 5 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high and stir in the garlic, rosemary, and thyme, cooking until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the lentils and cook for 1 minute, then pour in 1 cup of the stock. Cook until the liquid is absorbed, and then pour in the remaining stock.
7. Bring to a simmer (don’t let the soup boil) and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are nearly tender, about 35 minutes. Stir in the shredded pork and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender, about 10 minutes longer. Serve hot with bread, of course.