Ham Hocks and Beans

Back in my Marine Corps days one of the most memorable persons I met was Staff Sergeant Hollins. He was a warrior and lifer grunt who loved two things: the Marine Corps and ham hocks and beans. He would rhapsodize about the dish and how it was his favorite meal from boyhood onward. We knew that in the southern U.S., whether you were white or black, ham hocks and beans was, and is, a rite of passage. When I discovered how tasty it was I also became a fan of the dish.

I'm pretty certain Staff Sergeant Hollins would approve of the recipe given below. With a beer or, if you prefer, a hearty red wine such as a Cabernet or Chianti, nothing could be better.

1 pound dry pinto or navy white beans
4-6 smoked ham hocks (about 4-5 ounces each)
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 bay leaves

1. Soak beans in cool water for about 45 minutes. Drain, picking out any bad ones, gravel or rocks.
2. Place beans, ham hocks, onion, garlic, oregano, salt, pepper, and bay leaves in a large Dutch oven or pot. Fill with water until an inch to cover beans.  Bring to a boil, cover with lid and simmer on medium-low heat for 4 to 5 hours, stirring occasionally, adding more water if needed. Remove ham hocks when they are tender and meat fall off the bones. The longer you simmer the thicker the broth will become.
3. Remove ham hacks from the broth, and allow to cool so they can be handled.  Remove meat from the ham hocks, discarding fat and bones and return to the stockpot. Remove bay leafs, adjust seasonings to taste, if necessary, and serve (I prefer it with steamed rice).
    Yield: 4 servings or more.

Photo: Courtesy of heatherchristo.com