If I had juniper berries, this would be an authentic schweinshaxe, a German roast pork knuckle (or hock, if you prefer) with tender and moist meat, and crisp skin. Alas, I don’t know where to get juniper berries.
Still and all, I decided to go ahead and make this dish because I wanted to find out if it really is possible to make the skin of the pork knuckle crisp without preliminary boiling. See, in the Philippines, there is a similar dish called crispy pata. Unlike the German schweinshaxe, however, in cooking crispy pata, the pork knuckle is first simmered in salty water until thoroughly cooked. The pork is drained then deep fried until the skin puffs and turns into crackling (roasting over high heat also achieves the same result).
So, the question was whether I could achieve similar results without the long simmering part. The answer: yes and no.
The skin did turn crisp but not puffed. Perhaps, that shouldn’t really be surprising. Lechon is not simmered before roasted yet the skin turns crisp too. Same principle.
The huge difference was in the texture of the meat. Because the meat was touching the braising liquid, no juices were lost. In fact, the meat absorbed all the moisture and flavors during the long roasting hours. Truly succulent.
In terms of convenience, the upside of the German way of roasting pork knuckle (vis a vis the crispy pata) is that after the initial preparation, you just pop the pork in the oven and need not bother with it until the roasting time is done. Moreover, there are less utensils to wash.
Start by preparing the seasonings and spices. Mix them all together.
Rub the mixed seasonings all over the pork.
Prepare the baking dish by lining it with sliced onions.
Position the pork upright with the meatier end touching the onion slices.
Pour in the beer and broth, and pop into the oven.
- 1 whole pork knuckle (hock, in some regions)
- 1 tbsp. of caraway seeds
- 2 tbsps. of salt
- 2 tbsps. of grated garlic
- 2 large onions, thinly sliced
- 1 can of beer (pale, not dark) plus equal amount of broth
- 2 sprigs of rosemary
- 2 sprigs of thyme
- Preheat the oven to 425F.
- Mix together the garlic, caraway seeds and salt.
- Rub all over the pork.
- Cover the bottom of an ovenproof dish with the onion slices.
- Stand the pork knuckle in the dish, the end with the exposed meat touching the onion slices. Pour in the beer and broth. The liquid should come up to almost half the height of the pork knuckle. Depending on the size of the pan, you may need to use more or less broth. The trick really is to expose the skin to the oven’s dry heat while the meat absorbs the liquid to prevent it from turning dry. That’s why the pork knuckle is in a “standing” position.
- Add the herbs. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
- Roast at 425F for two to two-and-a-half hours. If the liquid dries up, add more broth, no more than a cup at a time.
- Transfer the pork knuckle on a plate. You may make a gravy by straining the remaining liquid from the pan, adding flour and butter and cooking until thick.