Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Soul Food Ramen Noodles ... Ham Hock Cutlet Stewed with Tomatoes and Okra ~ Stovepipe Wells, Death Valley!

     This article was edited on 8-27-2014.  A slide show was added!

     Louisiana style slow cooked soul food ramen noodles!  A thin ham hock cutlet stewed with country style tomato and okra over ramen noodles.  Garnished with filé powder!

     Why not just go for it, when a craving leads to a new ramen noodle recipe idea?  Soul food is still popular after all these years and the comfort this cuisine offers is the reason why.  It is easy to see that soul food is popular, because out of over 1,000 recipes that I have published so far, these down home country recipes are almost always in the top ten most viewed recipe list each week. 

     To cook soul food, a person kind of has to understand the meaning of the word soul as it applies to cooking.  In this context, soul means applying your own honest inner self and your good feelings to what is being cooked and sharing that soulful feeling with others.  That is only one of the thousands of definitions of the meaning of how soul applies to cooking food.  Soul food is spiritual, it is hope and it is kindness.  Soul food is color blind.  Soul food is doing what you do, the way you do and it inspires other to do nice things in return.  Soul food also means taking pride in cooking up a whole mess of good old fashioned country vittles for hungry folk who have hearty appetites!

     Country cooking, southern cooking, down home cooking and soul food cooking are all nearly the same, but not everybody applies soul to what they cook equally.  Some folks got more soul than others, but never let a thought like this get a person down, because in the end, if the food is on the table then somebody had enough soul to make it all happen!

     Soul food often makes use of many items that snobbish gourmands have no taste for.  Chicken gizzards, chicken feet, liver, chitterlings, trotters, snouts, ears, neck bones and hocks are all items that down to earth country folk have a taste for.  Well, to be honest, chitterlings are kind of an acquired taste, even for down home country folk!  I like chitterlings, but not every soul food fan does.  Ce est la vie!

     Some of the soul food recipes in the website were cooked and written in Chicago and some of those recipes featured smoked meats.  Chicago is a major meat packinghouse city and top quality freshly smoked meats are available there for a nice low price.  In the old days, smoking was one of the only ways to preserve meats, especially in the southern states where winter temperatures rarely got cold enough for natural ice production.  Salt curing was not always reliable, because curing salts were not always available when times were tough.

     Smoked ham hock is a popular flavor with nearly any crowd.  Unsmoked, uncured, fresh raw ham hock has a stronger flavor.  Raw ham hocks tend to find their way into deep south cooking and soul food cooking close to the same day that a pig was slaughtered.  Most often, good healthy pig leg meat is dark and stronger tasting than the rest of the pig.  Country folk tend to use tomatoes, seasoning, onions and peppers to tame the strong flavor of uncured pork leg meat, especially when wild hog leg meat is simmering away.  Wild hogs taste the strongest.

     Stewed tomato and okra is a popular southern vegetable recipe.  Pork hocks that are stewed with tomato and okra is an old time down home favorite.  Especially in Louisiana, where some of the best tomatoes in the world are grown.  
     Powdered sassafras leaf is a traditional Native American spice and stew thickener that does have some medicinal value.  Cajuns are not the only people that use filé powder (ground sassafras leaves) in recipes, contrary to what many food experts believe.  
     Sassafras grows wild throughout the midwest and the south.  As kids, we used to go out in the Missouri woods and grab handfuls of sassafras tree leaves to dry and make tea with.  In the mid American south, people grind wild sassafras to be used as Filé Powder, just like this has been done for thousands of years.  Sassafras leaf spice tastes great with pork hocks that are stewed with okra and tomato.  If filé powder is added early, it thickens the stew.  If it is added late, it spices the stew up with a fragrant aroma!
     Traditionally, pork hock stewed with tomatoes and okra is served with rice.  Serving this Louisiana stew ham hock over ramen noodles is surely going to rock the world of gourmet ramen noodle recipe fans with good old fashioned soul fever.  Get on the soul train and enjoy the ride!

     Stovepipe Wells, Death Valley!
     Stovepipe Wells is located on Route 178 near Route 190 in Death Valley.  Route 178 winds its way toward the Panamint Valley.  
     Stovepipe Wells started as a mining community about 100 years ago.  In 1925 a hotel resort was built there to accommodate travelers on the scenic Death Valley toll road of that era.  Stovepipe Wells is now a busy resort and it is one of the few places to get water, groceries and gas in Death Valley.  The Stovepipe Wells resorts has a saloon, motel rooms and restaurants.  I stopped at Stovepipe Wells on the way to the Mosaic Canyon and the employees at the resort general store were very nice and courteous.  The resort is modern and well maintained. 

     The day after I visited Stovepipe Wells, a rare torrential rain storm struck the area.  The dry wash that runs from Mosaic Canyon at the top of the mountain, leads straight downhill to Stovepipe Wells.  The resort was flooded and the guests had to be evacuated that evening.  I was working at another Death Valley resort just down the road at that time and many people from Stovepipe Wells sought refuge at our resort.  The funny thing is, the Furnace Creek Resort is also located on another dry wash, so that area was under the threat of flooding too.  Luckily, the flash flood stayed within the Funeral Mountain dry wash boundaries, so all was well. 

     When visiting Death Valley, it pays to pack plenty of water, fuel and non perishable food.  It also pays to keep an eye out for those rare rain storms that pop up during the summer monsoon season.  Death Valley is surrounded by mountains and most of the basin of Death Valley is well below sea level.  Water does run down hill, so stay out of dry washes when it looks like rain, even if the storm clouds are several miles away.  A dry wash can turn into white water rapids in less than five minutes, even if the rain is falling ten miles away somewhere at a higher elevation! 

     Ham Hock Cutlet Stewed with Tomatoes and Okra:
     This recipe yields 1 portion!
     The stew does take quite some time to slow simmer, so this is not an instant ramen noodle recipe.  This recipe is slow cooked with soul!
     A butcher can use a meat saw to cut a meaty ham hock through the bone on request.  Thin sawed ham hocks are available at Asian markets and Filipino markets.  Keep in mind, the meatier the ham hock, the better. 
     Select a meaty 3/8" to 1/2" thick slice of fresh ham hock that is sawed through the bone.
     Use a knife to barely cut through the pork rind that surrounds the meat, one slice every inch or two.  (This will keep the stop the rind from shrinking and curling the meat into an odd looking shape when the ham hock is stewed.)
     Heat a small saute pan or cast iron skillet over medium/medium low heat.  
     Add 1 chopped slice of smoked bacon.
     Add 1 teaspoon of unsalted butter.
     Saute the bacon, till most of the bacon grease has rendered.
     Add the ham hock cutlet.
     Saute till the pork hock becomes browned on both sides.  
     Add 1/3 cup of small chopped onion.
     Add 1 chopped green onion.
     Add 1/2 of a chopped seeded jalapeno pepper.
     Saute till the vegetables start to become tender.
     Season with sea salt and black pepper.
     Add 1/2 cup of thick sliced okra.
     Add 1 cup of chopped overripe seeded tomato.
     Add 1/2 cup of tomato puree.
     Add 1 1/2 cups of chicken broth.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of cider vinegar.
     Bring the ingredients to a very gentle boil.
     Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Gently simmer the stew, till the ham hock meat becomes tender.  Add water if the stewing sauce reduces to a thick sauce, before the pork hock meat becomes tender.
     After the pork hock meat is tender, simmer and reduce till the sauce to a medium thick tomato sauce consistency.
     Adjust the seasoning with sea salt and black pepper if necessary.
     Keep the stew warm over very low heat.

     Soul Food Ramen Noodles ... Ham Hock Cutlet Stewed with Tomatoes and Okra:
     Cook 1 portion of ramen noodles in boiling water, till they become tender.
     Drain the hot water off of the ramen noodles.
     Place the ramen noodles in a shallow bowl.
     Place the stewed ham hock on the center of the ramen noodles.
     Pour the tomato okra stew sauce over the ham hock and ramen noodles.
     Sprinkle a few pinches of filé powder over the stew and around the noodles in the bowl.
     Sprinkle a few bite size pieces of green onion top over the stew.

     Comfortable tasting and hearty.  Soul ramen!  Yum!   

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