Yes, you read this right. Smoked ham hocks....baked in hay. OK, I'll admit this isn't something you run across that often. I was actually inspired by a No Reservations episode where Tony Bourdain visits with Marco Pierre White and Marco described baking a rabbit in hay. As Marco describes it, all of the answers are right in front of us, we just need to look to Nature for inspiration.
So, I did a little research and found that alfalfa hay was the most desirable for baking, so I called up Beau Ramsburg, uber-farmer to the stars and asked if he could get me a bale of alfalfa hay. After a few minutes of 'what are you gonna do with that?' type questions, my hay was on the way.
I decided that I thought smoked ham hocks would be an interesting jumping off point for my baking in hay idea. So older recipes I found called for baking a whole ham in hay, so smoked ham hocks weren't that far off. Here's a video of my set up. Basically, a deep hotel pan, some apple cider and alfalfa hay.
So, once I was setup, I got one of our ham bags(the bags we use for wrapping our cured hams and hanging them in the curing room) and stuffed the hocks in the bag so I could keep the excess hay off of the hocks.
After a couple of hours in the oven, the hocks came out and got a quick rinse under cold water. From there, I shredded the hocks and added some gelatin to apple cider.....then tossed the shredded hock with the cider and packed it into a terrine mold.
So, I gotta tell you. The hocks took on a decidedly grassy, hay-like(imagine that) flavor. It works really well with the smoke of the hock and the sweetness of the cider(the hay is actually a bit sweet). On its own, it's really good. However, once I pulled the hock out of the terrine the next step was 'what to pair with it?'. Here's what I came up with.
The base is pumpernickel bread toasted in brown butter.....then the terrine topped with Maldon salt.....sauerkraut vinaigrette, sunny up quail egg....cornichon, radish sprouts. I gotta say....the terrine is really pretty tasty on its own with a smear of mustard, but.....adding the pumpernickel bread and a little 'egg gravy' puts this bad boy over the top. I know the sound of anything 'baked in hay' will deter most folks from trying this, but it is really delicious.... I think the first step in 'baking in hay' was a great success and I can't wait to try out some other ideas.