Tuesday, October 16, 2012

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

A Louisiana style gourmet soul food ramen noodle entree!  Slow cooked thin ham hock section stewed with Louisiana country style tomato and okra over ramen noodles garnished with filé powder!

     Why not?  Soul food is still popular after all these years.  It must be popular, because out of over 1,0000 recipes that I have published, soul food recipes are almost always in the top ten most viewed recipe list of this food blog.  
     To cook soul food you kind of have to understand the meaning of the word soul.  Soul means giving your own inner self and your inner good feeling to what you are doing, or what you are making and sharing that feeling with others.  That is only one definition of the thousands of definitions of the meaning of the word soul.  Soul is spiritual, soul is hope and soul is kindness.  Soul is colorblind and soul is doing what you do, the way you do.  Soul is also cooking up a tasty plate of old fashioned country vittles!
     Country cooking, southern cooking and soul food cooking are all nearly the same.  Soul food often makes use of many items that the middle of the road people have no taste for.  Chicken gizzards, chicken feet, liver, chitterlings, trotters, snouts, ears, neck bones, hocks are all items that down home 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 down home folk does.
     Most of my old soul food recipes that were cooked and written in Chicago featured smoked meats.  Chicago is a major meat packinghouse city and top quality freshly smoked meats are available there for a nice price.  In the old days, smoking was one of the only ways to preserve meats in the south and mid south.  Salt and salt peter was not always available.
     Smoked ham hock is a popular flavor with nearly any crowd.  Unsmoked, uncured, fresh raw ham hock is quite strong in flavor.  Raw ham hocks tend to find their way into deep south cooking and soul food cooking.  Most times, 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 pork leg meat.  Especially wild hog leg meat.  
     Stewed tomato and okra is a popular southern recipe.  Pork leg meat that is 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 popular stew thickener and medicinal herb that is commonly used in Native American cooking.  Cajuns are not the only people that use filé powder in recipes.  Sassafras grows wild throughout the mid American 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 a spice, just like it has been done for thousands of years.  Sassafras leaf (filé powder) 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!
     Traditionally, pork hock stewed with tomatoes and okra is served with rice.  Serving this Louisiana style soul food stew over ramen noodles is surely going to rock the world of gourmet ramen noodle recipe fans!

     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.  Stovepipe Wells has a saloon, rooms and restaurants.  
     The dirt road to the Mosaic Canyon starts at Stovepipe Wells.  Mesquite Dunes and the Devil's Cornfield are both located next to Stovepipe Wells and those places are great sights to see in Death Valley.  
     Stovepipe Wells is located on Route 178 near Route 190 in Death Valley.  Route 178 runs to the Panamint Valley.  
     I stopped at Stovepipe Wells on the way to the Mosaic Canyon and the employees at the resort 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 resort in Death Valley at that time and many people from Stovepipe Wells sought shelter at our resort.  The funny thing is, the Furnace Creek Resort is also located on another dry wash, so the area was plenty wet too.
     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 monsoon season.  Death Valley is surrounded by mountains and most of the basin of Death Valley is below sea level.  Water does run down hill, so stay out of dry washes when it looks like rain.  A dry wash can turn into white water rapids in less than five minutes! 

     Ham Hock Stewed with Tomatoes and Okra Soul Food Ramen Noodles:
     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 ham hock through the bone on request.  Thin sawed ham hocks are available at asian markets and Filipino markets.  
     Choose a meaty 3/8" thick 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 around the meat, once ever 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 over medium/medium low heat.  
     Add 1 chopped slice of smoked bacon.
     Add 2 pats of unsalted butter.
     Saute till the bacon, till most of the bacon grease has rendered.
     Add the slice of ham hock.
     Add 1/3 cup of small chopped onion.
     Add 1 chopped green onion.
     Add 1/2 of a chopped seeded jalapeno pepper.
     Season with sea salt and black pepper.
     Saute till the pork hock becomes browned on both sides.  Be sure to stir the other ingredients occasionally, so they do not scorch.
     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.
     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, and till the stew reduces to a medium tomato sauce consistency.
     Adjust the seasoning with sea salt and black pepper if necessary.
     Keep the Ham Hock Stewed with Tomatoes and Okra warm over very low heat.
     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 on the inside of the bowl.
     Sprinkle a few bite size pieces of green onion top over the stew.

     Comfortable tasting and hearty!  This is a nice Louisiana style soul food stew to serve over ramen noodles.  Ramen noodle heads do get tired of only seeing quickly made broths in gourmet ramen noodle recipes.  Soul ramen!  Yum!  ...  Shawna   

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