Schweinshaxe is a culinary sight to behold. It is a juicy and tender pork knuckle that has been cooked slowly, with meat falling apart, and yet its golden crackling is crispy and salty, slightly gelatinous after chewing on it, releasing a meaty aroma that is best accompanied by some potatoes or refreshing salad.
A humble origin
This beloved German dish is very popular in the southern Bavaria region. It started out as a peasant food, hearty and cheap, with high calories to give nutrition to the farmers, labourers and commoners who might not often have enough to eat. As this dish makes use of the inexpensive cut of pork knuckle, slow cooking is required to turn inedible muscles that are hard to eat into tender meat that falls off the bone.
What is a pork knuckle
The knuckle is located at the end of the pig’s leg. It is below the joint of the upper thigh and stops at above the ankle. The best way to cook the knuckle is to slowly roast it at low temperature for several hours. This allows the tough connective tissues to melt and soften, but also dry out the skin into crackling. The collagen within the connective tissues will also disintegrate into a gelatinous texture, adding to the juiciness of the pork knuckle.
A familiar dish
For the pork lovers, this is reminiscent of the roasted pork belly dish you can usually find in Cantonese restaurants or hawker stalls selling roasted meat. There are many similarities between the two dishes. Even though the cuts of meat that are used are different, both the roasted pork belly and schweinshaxe illustrate the versatility and deliciousness of pork by accentuating the crispy crackling, a layer or fat or collagen that keeps the leaner part moist, while retaining the original flavour of the pork. Both recipes respect the integrity of the pork by not covering up the meat with unnecessary seasoning. A simple yet clever use of salt seems sufficient to create amazing, classic dishes that appeal to the masses.
How to enjoy a roasted pork knuckle
The schweinshaxe is usually eaten with gravy and potatoes. Depending on where you are, different restaurants and beer halls serve the potatoes differently. You might get a dumpling, like knödel, to go with the dish, other times you will get boiled or mashed potatoes. You will also get a cabbage dish that will cut through the heaviness of the meat. Sometimes fresh red cabbage that has been braised in sugar and vinegar will be served. Alternatively, another iconic German dish, sauerkraut, can also accompany the schweinshaxe. Both side dishes are tangy and appetising, perfectly balancing out the greasy pork knuckle.
While this moreish dish is usually eaten as a main dish, and more for dinner than lunch or breakfast, a whole knuckle is quite hefty and it is common to see people sharing this instead of having a knuckle for themselves. During Oktoberfest, you will find this quintessential dish served everywhere, showing you that beer and pork make for a divine pairing in the gastronomical world.