Schweinshaxe Image courtesy of Paulaner Brauhaus
By Hannah Howard

SCOOP DU JOUR is a weekly column by food enthusiast Hannah Howard about eating, cooking, and exploring her way through New York. From a visit with the City’s greatest grocer to discovering the “umami” of love, Fridays are packed with the unique flavor only Hannah can coax out of a culinary experience.

In nearly every Bavarian brewpub, Germans are sitting down for brawny beers and Schweinshaxe — a massive, unapologetically, gloriously fatty pork hock. It probably sits upon a mound of sauerkraut or soft potatoes. It’s no joke. Pork knuckle is the perfect food to accompany beer served in a stein the size of a child. It’s where delicate goes to die.

This is no prized steak, no lovely lamb chop — pork knuckles are definitely off-cuts, reserved for ethnic stews and adventurous cooks (and Bavarians); big and bewildering. Beware: tendons abound. Cook it wrong and it’s a mess of stringy, chewy pieces and flabby fat.

Cook it right and ascend to carnivorous enlightenment. The only way to deal with this meat monster is to cook it low and slow — a braise works magic. During long, moist-heat cooking, the plentiful collagen breaks down into gelatin, which tenderizes the meat and gives it that melting, succulent, this-is-why-meat-is-so-good oomph.

It’s absurdly easy. Plop your pork knuckle on a roasting pan with salt, pepper, and garlic; add a dusting of caraway and a glug of dark beer if you want to be really German about it. Pop it in a 350-degree oven and leave it there for a long, long time: about four hours, or until the skin is crackly and the interior is soft.

Alternatively, go to the uber-Bavarian Paulaner Brauhaus on Bowery. It’s the German beer giant’s first foray in the USA, and it’s good. In the back, they’re brewing Hefeweizen, Munich Lager, Munich Dark, and probably something seasonal, too. The beers get transported via pipes in the tall ceiling to the taps. Cheers!

They make Schweinshaxe to end all Schweinshaxe. And after a few liters — yes, liters — of beer, you’ll need some pig for sustenance. It arrives all majestic, big enough for two, or three, depending on who your friends are. The crispy skin is a thing of beauty. It shatters neatly, yielding to sweet, tender meat that needs no knife to devour. You’ll need another liter to wash it all down. Prost!

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