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.