Adam's Bachelor Thanksgiving, Part Two: Smoked Ham & Honey Carrot Confit

Now that we've got the starch out of the way, it's time to move on to the main course.

Let's start with the Honey Carrot Confit. You will need:

3-5 Large Peeled Carrots
1/4 Cup Unsalted Butter
1/2 Cup Honey
Salt to taste

Assembling the Ingredients

Carrots are not just for health nuts, hippies, and rabbits. When cooked and seasoned properly, these root vegetables can be sweet or savory, hot or cold, crunchy or pleasantly smooth. My goal in this dish is to pair the sweetness of the carrots and honey with the saltiness of my smoked ham hock. As an added bonus, this dish is chock full of chemical oddities. Carrots contain carotenes (seems obvious now, doesn't it) which are poly-unsaturated hydrocarbons that play a role in photosynthesis and help give carrots their distinctive color. Carotenes belong to a larger class of biochemicals called terpenes, which are the building blocks of saps, pitches, steroids, and oils. Here in Berkeley, Dr. Jay Keasling (my mentor's mentor) has successfully engineered E. coli and yeast to convert terpenes into the anti-malarial drug Artemisinin, and he is now attempting to produce marketable biofuels using these biosynthetic pathways. Carotene thus sits at a juncture between photosynthesis (conversion of light energy to chemical energy), biofuels synthesis (conversion of chemical energy to mechanical or thermal energy), and advanced pharmacognosy (development of useful drugs from biological sources).

Honey is no slouch either when it come to interesting chemistry. Honey is actually a solution of various sugars (mostly fructose and sucrose, with about 20% water). When honey is cooked, the water evaporates and the sugars caramelize, leaving behind a crunchy texture and an exotic variety of chemical compounds such as diacetyl (2,3-butanedione) and acetoin (3-hydroxybutanone), along with many others. I have handled these compounds in their pure form in the laboratory, and can testify to their oily consistency and rich, buttery odor. Caramelized sugar is often described as creamy, savory, and sweet, all at the same time. This complexity is due to this diverse chemical combination.

But enough with Kitchen Chemistry 101. The bottom line is this: carrots and honey are simple ingredients that when properly prepared can impart a host of exciting flavors and textures. As I mention in my video, a vegetable or fruit confit is a dish that is cooked and sweetened to a gelatinous consistency. I like to leave a little bit of crunch in my carrots, but I will call this dish a confit nevertheless. For a more proper carrot confit, consider baking your carrots low and slow in the oven before you sauté them. I prefer to execute this cook-job quickly, first with a pot of boiling water, then several minutes in the sauté pan.

Some Sweet Sauté Action

Now for the Honey-Glazed Smoked Ham Hock with Rosemary and Caramelized Onion. Gather up the following:

1 Smoked Ham Hock
2 Tablespoons Chopped Rosemary
2 Cloves Chopped Garlic
1 Cup Light or Amber Ale
1/4 Cup Bacon Fat
1/4 Cup Honey and/or Brown Sugar
1 Small Onion, Sliced
Salt & Pepper to taste

Seasoning the Ham (Also, "A Reason to Buy Adam an External Microphone")

For a single man (at least for a skinny one like me), a whole turkey is out of the question. A stuffed chicken would have been a good option, but I have a day job... I've got things to do. One of the purposes of this blog is to demonstrate how to hide your inexperience and how to cheat in the kitchen. So, I decided to do just that. I bought a smoked ham hock at Andronico's, not knowing exactly what it was or what to do with it. According to reliable sources, the hock is the shin or forearm of the pig, which is pretty lean on meat and fat on fat. Gristle and fat don't bother me a bit, I have the fat-burning capability of a manic seventeen-year-old breakdancer on ecstasy.

Doing a Hack Job on the Ham Hock

I chose to prepare a quick honey glaze for the ham hock and pan roast it in a very hot oven, rendering some of the fat, but leaving some to chew while I toughed out my lonesome Thanksgiving feast. Like my boil and sauté carrot confit, this is a down and dirty method. If I was entertaining guests who were really serious about their food and I had all day, I would have baked the ham hock at a lower temperature for a couple hours. But I am the judge, jury, and executioner on this project. The honey glaze was sweet and delicious, likewise the onions, and the chunks of fat on the ham hock slowed me down just enough for me to consider what I am really thankful for.

Tomorrow we'll wrap things up with my Bruschetta... see you then.

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