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What is Eisbein?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Eisbein is a German dish prepared using a ham hock — often one that has been pickled or cured — typically served with mashed potatoes or sauerkraut. The ham hock is usually cooked slowly, boiled in water to which various vegetables and herbs are added. This softens the ham hock and introduces greater flavor though the skin and fat layer that are typically left on. Eisbein is quite easy to make and though it has a somewhat long cooking time, it does not require a great deal of attention.

Similar to a Polish dish called golanka, eisbein begins with the cut of meat from which it takes its name. Meaning “ice leg” in German, eisbein refers to the leg bone of the ham hock that is used in preparing this dish. The ham hock is a piece of pork that comes from below the ham and above the feet, similar to the ankle or wrist joint, so it is sometimes referred to as the pork knuckle. This cut of meat is quite flavorful, due to the marbled texture of fat and meat, but it also fairly tough and requires long, slow cooking for proper preparation.

Eisbein begins with the ham hock, which may need to be soaked in water before use, depending on the salt content of the hock. The ham hock can be smoked or cured and is often brined, and any of these preparations work well in making eisbein. A large pot of water is brought to a boil, to which the ham hock is added, along with carrots, onions, and celery that have all been roughly chopped. Bay leaves are often added to this, as well as whole peppercorns, and the pot is allowed to simmer for several hours, until the meat easily comes off the bone.

Traditional service of eisbein uses an entire ham hock, complete with the bone and the skin still on the hock. This skin is not crispy, but instead is soft from the long boiling, which may make it unappealing for some eaters. The eisbein is typically served atop a bed of mashed potatoes or sauerkraut, and mustard is usually served alongside it. Some recipes call for the ham hock to be removed from the water once cooked, dried, and then placed in an oven to bake until crisp on the outside. These recipes will also often call for a glaze to be brushed or poured over the ham hock while baking.

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Discussion Comments

By samoraj — On Oct 01, 2011

The Polish version of this dish is called "golonka". It's super easy to make, and my whole family loves it!

By StormyKnight — On Aug 10, 2011

@lisalou- I am like you in the dislike of sauerkraut. My great grandmother was of German descent and every time we went to visit, we were served some sort of dish that included good old sauerkraut.

I can remember this one particular dish that had a horrible smell but really looked good. She called it smoked eisbein. I assumed that, with the sauerkraut, I would definitely not like it. However, out of respect for my grandma cooking all day, I tried it. I actually liked it a lot. I took some home to my husband and he loved it too. He loves any kind of German dish. I started looking for different eisbein recipes on the internet and every one that I found was different. No two were alike.

I finally called Grandma and got her recipe. I must say that this was the first time I had ever cooked anything that included sauerkraut. It wasn't quite as good as hers but it was still delicious.

I still don't care very much for the smell, though.

By bagley79 — On Aug 10, 2011

Eisbein happens to be one of my favorite German dishes. I have made it many times the traditional way, but recently found a recipe for eisbein where you grilled it.

I love most grilled meat, so thought I would give it a try. The name of the recipe sounds a little misleading, because you still prepare the eisbein the traditional way by boiling in a saucepan on the stove.

Once the meat is done simmering is when you place it in a 425 degree oven for 10-15 minutes. This makes the skin brown and crispy. I really liked the taste of this even better than the traditional way.

I like the crispy skin better than the soft skin when it is just boiled on the stove. Topping it off with sauerkraut and a generous serving of mustard makes for a wonderful meal.

By LisaLou — On Aug 10, 2011

I always associate traditional German food with sauerkraut, which is one food that I don't care for at all. When my husband told me about this great recipe made with pork hocks and sauerkraut, I was not very interested in trying it.

Since he is the cook in the family and is always trying new and different dishes, I figured this was going to be on his list one day. When he told me he was going to fix eisbein for dinner, I still had no idea what he was talking about.

I must say, the meat tasted better than I expected, but I didn't eat any of the sauerkraut. This is not something that I would ever order at a restaurant, but if it was served to me by someone I knew who had gone to the effort to make it, I would not turn it away.

I think he was in the kitchen most of the afternoon preparing this dish. He enjoyed it much more than I did, but it now I will know what eisbein is if I ever see it on a menu.

By myharley — On Aug 09, 2011

I good friend of mine has lived and taught in Germany for twenty years. During that time I have visited her four times and always look forward to some traditional German food when I am there.

The first time she told me that she was going to make some eisbein, it didn't sound very appetizing. The whole process is not hard, you just have to give it some time.

I was pleasantly surprised when I tasted this dish the first time. She served this on top of mashed potatoes.

All of the spices and seasonings of the eisbein, combined with the comforting taste of the potatoes became a traditional favorite for me.

By popcorn — On Aug 08, 2011

My grandmother used to make eisbein in the wintertime and I always thought of it as a really aromatic dish, as I clearly remember her home being filled with the scent of all the herbs she had added to the eisbein. Nothing brings back memories of my childhood like smelling the unique scent of bay leaves and peppercorns.

I recently tried making eisbein myself and I am happy to report that it is really an easy dish to make. If you follow your recipe the whole project is really low maintenance. I like nothing more than dishes that basically take care of themselves once you put them together. I can imagine this is one of the things my grandma loved to.

By wander — On Aug 08, 2011

I had the opportunity to try eisbein when I was visiting some friends in Germany a few years back. My friends had promised me a home-cooked meal and I made sure I had the time to take them up on it.

I found that the eisbein they made was surprisingly tasty considering the meat had been boiled. Usually I prefer my meat grilled, roasted or barbequed, so I really wasn't expecting too much when they told me what they were making.

My friends actually went to the trouble of making the skin crispy, figuring that someone from America would like that a lot better. I loved the glaze they used on the pork and found that overall the meat was rich and juicy. I really enjoyed eisbein, though I am not certain I would like it as much if they hadn't thought to glaze it in an oven for me.

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