Here's a dish you'll most likely find in any Chinese restaurant's menu – pork hocks braised in a sweet soy glaze. Aside from the vegetable components which may vary from one preparation to another, its preparation pretty much remains the same – a long and slow braise enough to make those pork hocks fall apart tender while keeping their skin and flesh intact.
It all starts with a good-flavored braising liquid which shall mostly be soy sauce and sugar. We're using brown sugar here to further deepen the color of our sauce. Whisk these together with some Chinese cooking wine for some acidity and for that distinct aroma. I've added black bean garlic paste as well for a more characteristic saltiness.
Some cooks will totally skip this step but I find that marinating the pork hocks overnight in this base liquid intensifies the flavor all the way into the meat rather than staying in the sauce alone.
Next, get some extra flavor and aromatics into the mix. Some shiitake mushrooms will provide earthiness and more depth of flavor to the dish. You may also add in some black fungus or straw mushrooms if you wish.
A few slices of ginger will help brighten the flavors and balance out the dish's strong pork aroma which may not be appealing to most of us.
Finally, fresh leeks for that fresh herby flavor without much of the pungency that you'll get from using onions.
Go add any other aromatics, spices, or flavor components that you think will work. Get them into your pot now, adding to that bed which should keep our pork hock from sticking to the pot.
Get the pork in before adding the marinade or adding any extra liquid. First, you wouldn't want to disturb those ingredients at the bottom of your slow cooker and have them floating all over. Second, you'll want to pour just enough liquid to get about three-quarters of that ham hock submerged. It's that combined wet and dry cooking heat of braising that we want to achieve.
Finally, pour in the marinade, and add just enough water to get it to the level we want. Add a few spices in too. Star anise and black peppercorns are very good aromatic choices.
Leave your slow cooker to braise for 7-8 hours on a high heat setting. That'll be enough time to get the meat fall-off-the-bone tender.
Depending on how much water you've added into the pot, you may need to reduce the braising stock further on the stovetop. This will intensify the flavors further and allow that sauce to come down to a light syrup-like consistency that will coat the pork hocks better.
You may also add some vegetables to the dish too, for a more complete dinner. Just blanch a few bunches of bok choy and you're done. If you'd like to get heavier vegetables such as carrots, baby corn, potatoes, or cauliflower in, you may simply add them to the pot during the last hour of braising.