Monday 22 November 2010


One Christmas, a few years back, we received a hamper of fancy Italian food. It was all beautifully packaged and presented, and all labelled in Italian, so we weren't sure exactly what was inside the enticing packages and jars. We decided not to spoil the surprise by researching it all.

One of the most mysterious packages was a foil vacuum-packed one marked "Stinco". This sounded pretty unpleasant and we weren't sure quite what noxious vapours might issue forth when we opened it. To our surprise, but slight disappointment, it turned out to be what looked like a fairly ordinary cooked smoked ham hough (also known as a "hock" by the language-impaired, unable/unwilling to pronounce a "ch" sound). You can pick up uncooked smoked hough cheap in the local Co-Op, so it seemed a little out of place in a gourmet food basket.

I had underestimated our humble "stinco". We decided it might be best to translate the cooking instructions: these turned out to be a simple matter of slow-roasting it in an oven for several hours. The result was delicious, smoky, stranded meat that just fell off the bone when I went to carve it. We ate it with pickles and chutneys. And lo it came to pass that Christmas-time that our opinion of the humble hough was transformed to exalted heights of culinary appreciation.

The obvious next move was to see if a supermarket hough would work out the same. We did what we would have done previously: boiled up it for lentil soup. Then the magic: we took off the unappealing and waterlogged blubbery fat from the outside of the hough; covered it with oil, seasoning and some herbs; then put it in a low oven for about three hours. Not-so-instant perfect stinco!

I've done some research today. It turns out that the Italian word "stinco" translates simply as "shin". A hough isn't exactly the shin part but is lower down, meaning that it has more fat and tendon on it than the shin. However, it seems that "stinco" is often made using the hough rather than the shin proper. Any rubbery tendon bits break down with the slow-cooking anyway.

We ate stinco for dinner last night, looking out from the dining table at a glittering cold moonlit sea. The lentil soup made from pre-boiling the hough will be my lunch today. Comfort food of the first order.

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