Wednesday, 20 October 2010

How (not) to cook a pig's cheek

I've been meaning to post this for about a month but events have overtaken me. First landing the Guardian wine column which meant a frenzied few days tasting before going away on a long overdue holiday to France. I was going to blog there but managed to get sidetracked by visiting winemakers. I suspect this will be the story of my life for the next few months.

Anyway, pig's cheeks. Or rather pig's cheek. I found one on sale (below) at Source in Bristol for around a fiver I seem to remember and having never cooked one thought I'd give it a go. I was a bit disconcerted to find that one of the recipes I looked up called for more like a dozen cheeks which would have made it about as expensive as fillet steak so decided to give my solitary one the pork and beans treatment following a recipe I'd been given by a friend for hand of pork.

The boys at Source suggested I brined it first which I did but am not convinced it made a huge amount of difference*. The end result was pretty tasty but there was so little lean meat on the cheek that it was more like a pork-flavoured dish of beans. To satisfy the average healthy male appetite I think you'd need at least a cheek per person which really negates the idea of pig cheeks as a cheap cut.

Anyway here, for what it's worth, is what I did but I suggest you make it, like my friend Sue, with hand of pork

Brined pig’s cheek and beans
1 pig's cheek

For the brine
100g granulated sugar
300g seasalt
4 juniper berries
3 cloves
1 bayleaf
1 litre water

For the beans
500g dried butter beans
2 onions
4 cloves of garlic
2 carrot peeled and cut into chunks
175ml white wine
vegetable oil
rosemary and /or thyme

Put the beans in a large bowl of water and soak overnight.

Put the ingredients for the brine in a saucepan and heat gently until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Bring to the boil and cool. Immerse the cheek in the brine for at least a couple of hours.

Pre-cook the beans in a large pan covered generously with clean cold water and boil fast for 20 minutes. Don't add salt. Drain but reserve the liquid.

Preheat oven to Gas 3/160°C (I used the lower oven of the Aga)

Very finely chop the onion, garlic and carrot or blitz in a food processor. Heat a large casserole big enough to take the pig’s cheek, add a couple of tablespoons of oil and cook the finely chopped vegetables until soft.

Add the part-cooked beans and the wine, and pour in 1 litre of the reserved stock from the beans (If you need more stock then make up some chicken stock from a cube and use that)

Add rosemary and/or thyme to taste - if you have sprigs then use these, if not, dried herbs will be fine - and plenty of black pepper.

Place the pork joint on top - with a bit of oil rubbed onto the skin and season with sea or rock salt.

Put the roasting pan in the oven and roast for about 3 to 3 1/2 hours. (Mine took more like 6-7 hours) Check every now and then that there is enough liquid in the beans - add more stock/white wine if needed.

At the end of cooking the pork should be deep golden brown with crackling worth fighting over! (Mine didn't get this consistency but the cooking temperature was lower)

Serve straight from the roasting dish in the middle of the table - the pork will be best cut into chunks rather than trying to slice it.

* Not that I'm against brining. I've brined pork chops to very good effect.

Have you ever cooked a pig's cheek/s and if so how did it go?


Catherine said...

Difference between pig cheek (the meat cut out) and a bath chap/pork jowl, which includes the fat?

You can get free range pig cheeks in Waitrose for £2.99 a kg, which is roughly a dozen. Very cheap and tasty!

Fiona Beckett said...

I think you've put your finger on it, Catherine. Unhelpfully the cut was described as pig's cheek in the butcher. The Waitrose deal sounds brilliant and I'm sure wouldn't take nearly as long to cook

Catherine said...

They don't. I often marinade them (in red wine or cider), then it takes roughly an hour of steady cooking for them to become tender.

Deanna said...

My latest blog is about pig's cheek too. I bought them from Waitrose at something like £2.34 for 10. An amazing bargain - but they didn't have the rest of the face attached like yours did!

Fiona Beckett said...

Clearly I have to get to Waitrose. Only problem is one rarely buys just the bargain and ends up loading up with other more expensive things ;-)

Rosemary said...

Hi Fiona I've been keeping pigs for a year or more and generally do my own butchery. Usually the cheek is just the medallion of meat and the part you were sold would be for brawn. I have a half pigs head defrosting now. Picking it over after long slow cooking is a chore, but, with tons of parsley, the result is great.

James said...

£5?! Somebody somewhere knows how to make a nice profit lol.

I've most often had them just cut out of the pigs head when we cook a whole pig. I always try & persuade people to try them. New for a lot of people. Was at the farm the other day and they said they most often just cut out the cheeks with the rest of the meat and put it in the sausage mix - now I know why they taste so good. Knowing your market I guess.....

Dan said...

Hi Fiona, I had a go at cooking pigs cheeks a while back using a friends recipe. I bought the cheeks from my butcher, but they came with a slab of the pigs cheek attached. Which considering they were sold by weight is a bit of a bind! (As mentioned above Waitrose sell the pigs cheeks already butchered, and they're a complete bargain!) anyway, in the end they turned out really well - The write up is here...
Pork Cheeks

Fiona Beckett said...

Thanks for that contribution, Rosemary. I think I expected pigs cheeks to be more like ox cheek but they're clearly much fattier and, as you say, it's only the medallion you can really work with unless you're making brawn or fromage de tete. More like a cods cheek really. Where do you farm?

Yes, was definitely ripped off, James although as I'd never cooked them before I was curious to try them. I thought the whole thing would render down more than it did. It made the beans very tasty but a bit fatty.

And great post, Dan. Looks like you went through the same learning process as I did but your dish looks much more impressive!

Helen said...

Ah shame the cheek didn't work out but congratulations on the wine column!

Fiona Beckett said...

Maybe should stick to wine rather than obscure pig parts . . . ;-)

Gwen - TheFoodieHistorian said...

I bought some (trimmed) pigs cheeks last week (the abovementioned Waitrose bargains) and was looking for some ideas for a frugal feast. Look forward to having a go at some of the suggestions in your comments - thanks!

Jan McCourt said...

Hi Fiona
Fascinating debate. I believe the original Bath Chap is/was a cured pig cheek. This would have been cured along with so much of the rest of the pig the day after slaughter. The cheek is best used either as you suggest taking just the kernel of meat, or using some of the fat that surrounds it. We supply a great restaurant/bar in Leicester called Entropy which does a brilliant deep fried pig cheek using our rare breed pigs. We sell a whole head for £4-00 from which you get not only the two cheeks but the ears & the making of Brawn. Not to mention the hunter-gatherer satisfaction of dealing with the head.
Great about the wine column, but definitely don't give up on the food.
Best wishes

Robert said...

Hi fiona

I made a casserole using pork cheek, parsnip, carrots and a peeled/sliced bramley apple which cooked into a thickish sauce along with the cider/stock base. I used my slow cooker on low for 6 hours. Then I served it with mash and sauteeded greens.

Adding to the others, the waitrose cheeks are a bargain!

daphne said...

I don't like to eat meat this few days but this recipe look so inviting=)I would love to make things like this, but I’d be the only one to eat them! My husband can’t stand pig cheek. But it's okay sigh

Fiona Beckett said...

Daphne - you obviously need to head for Entropy. Love the sound of that dish, Jan. Obviously I'm shopping in the wrong place . . . (and very good to hear from you again)

Your pigs cheek and cider casserole sounds amazing, Robert. It's just going to have to be a trip to Waitrose . . .

Byrno said...

I had pig's cheek with chicory and mustard in a restuarant last week, it was really tasty but it did seem really like crispy slices of belly pork . . . any chance it was?
All this has got me wondering . . . .

Lampygirl said...

I bought four cheeks tonight from Waitrose (they're free range) for less than £1. Simmered in salt water for an hour, ready to eat. Not falling apart but perfect for slicing and adding to japanese soup, greens and noodles with teriyaki sauce. Taste slightly gamey, very tender, hardly any fat.

Ruth said...

Another champion of Waitrose pigs cheek medallions here too! Today I browned them slightly in a non-stick pan, then added to sweated onions & garlic, beef stock & carrots, with a tablespoon full of elderberry jelly & red wine (well, used up some horrible mulled wine I was given a while back) & transferred them to the oven with a load of thinly sliced potatoes on top. Did two of us with left-overs for one, only cost £1.57 for the meat & only needed the bare minimum of added fat. It was delicious!

Catherine Howard said...

Morrison's sell fresh pigs cheek medallions in the butchery fridge. Around £150 for a pack of 6. I noticed them last week.

Fiona Beckett said...

Hope it's not £150 a pack of six! But £1.50 which I'm sure you meant, Catherine, would be a great deal.

Anonymous said...

I bought cheeks from Morrisons yesterday, they were reduced in p-rice and are now in the freezer until I find a good recipe for them. I have read/watched/heard (I'm at an age that these days I could have dreamt it!) that they are very tasty after a long slow cook. Looking forward to tasting them when I do get round to it. Hopefully this Sunday. I'd best get them out of the freezer :)

Anonymous said...

Tasted Bath Chap at the Pig Hotel in theNew Forest last weekend. First time ever. Fantastic! Accused my husband of choosing war food while away for the weekend. I have spent all this week looking for similar recipe so I can source and cook. I want the half head with crackling.