Friday 12 August 2016

Cheeky little beggars

I like pigs cheeks. In actual fact I love them. I first had them at Roast in London (claaang!), and if I ever see them on menus will always go for them. I've cooked many many pigs cheeks as well, and the following recipe is a real beauty.

Slow Braised Spiced Pigs Cheeks 

This recipe couldn’t really be easier, and can be made to look really snazzy (just put less on the plate than I did here and you can make it look pretty elegant). The ingredient list and method looks long and arduous, but there is very little that is challenging. Plus, if you want to impress, it’s worth the investment in time. You can of course omit a couple of the garnishes, like the fried shallots and chorizo, but if you’re having a Dee Pee (dinner party!), you should keep them in. It’s almost a one pot wonder, but the real beauty is that the timing isn’t all that crucial. If you’re in a hurry, then perhaps it’s not the recipe for you today, but if you’ve a few things to do and aren’t sure what time you’ll be eating, it’s perfect as you have leeway at the back end of the cooking time. In actual fact, if you do cook it early then allow to cool and reheat when you need it, you’ll find it tastes even better. Better still the next day, as the flavours will have got pretty friendly the day before, then spent a cheeky night together!

Serves 4

Braised Pigs Cheeks
  • Olive Oil
  • 2 Medium Red Onions finely sliced 
  • 4 Fat Garlic Cloves (see notes)
  • 12 Pigs Cheeks
  • Seasoned Flour (salt, pepper, garlic powder)
  • 600ml Good Beef Stock
  • 250ml Medium Sweet Sherry
  • 1 ½ Teaspoons Cumin Powder 
  •  ½ Teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
  • 1 Teaspoon Turmeric
  • 1 Rounded Teaspoon Smoked Paprika
  • 50g Cold Unsalted Butter Diced
  • 1 Teaspoon Corn flour (might not be needed)
  • Cooking chorizo, cut in to very small cubes

To Serve

Mashed Parsnip and Potato
  • Floury Potatoes
  • Parsnips
  • Salted Butter
  • Cream
  • Seasoning
Shredded Cabbage
  • Hispi Cabbage (the pointy one)
  • 3 Banana Shallots
  • Butter 
  • Seasoning
Crispy Shallots
  • 3 Banana Shallots
  • Vegetable Oil for frying
  • 1 Teaspoon Smoked Paprika 
And finally...
  • Cooking Chorizo sliced length ways

Method for the Pigs Cheeks 

1. In a stove top casserole with a lid, heat a little olive oil and fry the cubed chorizo until it releases its own oil. Then add the onions and fry gently for a good 10 minutes. They should end up shiny and soft (and red from the chorizo). Taste them, if they are nice and sweet, you’re done, if not, keep going but don’t allow them to catch or burn as they will taste slightly acrid (perfect for hot dogs though!)
2. In another frying pan, heat some more oil, dust the cheeks in the seasoned flour and fry them in batches. Allow them to get nice and brown, with a bit of crispiness ideally.
3. When the cheeks are all browned, add them to the pan with the onions and chorizo in.
4. In the pan that you fried the cheeks in, there should be some caramelised filth on the bottom of the pan, keep the heat on and pour in 100ml of the sherry. Scrape all the bits off the bottom of the pan and reduce the heat. Allow the sherry to bubble away until it is half its original volume. It should be a bit thicker and syrupy. (Taste a bit with a teaspoon…. this gives the dish a real rich depth of flavour)
5. Put the heat back on under the onion pan with the browned cheeks, and add the garlic (having crushed it), the paprika, cumin, cayenne and turmeric and allow to come up to a high heat. Cook away for about 2 minutes, then add the remaining sherry. You want it to bubble and sizzle, (you might get a flame or two as well), then stir everything together making sure you scrape the bottom of the pan as well.
6. Add the reduced sherry mixture, but retain about a tablespoon of it.
7. Add the beef stock and bring to the boil very briefly, then reduce the heat and simmer with the lid on for 1 hour, then with the lid off for another hour (doesn’t matter if this turns in to an hour and a half). After this, you can allow to cool if you are serving later.
8. When you are ready to serve (having reheated if allowed to cool), add the cold cubed butter. Depending on how vigorous your simmering was, this may be enough to thicken it so that the sauce is nice and shiny. If you think it still seems a bit thin, mix the corn flour with a splash of cold water, and stir in bit by bit. As with everything else, do it a bit at a time until perfect, as opposed to whacking it all in and ending up with a meat jelly that you then need to thin out again!

Method for the potato and parsnip mash 

1. Peel and chunk up your potatoes. Boil these in salted water for 10 minutes. While they are boiling, peel and chunk up your parsnips, removing the tough inner core near the thick end. You want about a 50/50 mix so use as many as you want depending on how hungry you are.
2. Add the parsnips to the potatoes and boil for a further 10 minutes.
3. Check that both the potatoes and the parsnips are soft, drain, then place in a food processor. Add butter and cream until you have a lovely smooth puree. You want it to hold its form, so don’t go too mad with the cream. Season, tasting as you go. Using salted butter means you shouldn’t need too much salt. (If you don’t have a food processor, then just mash them together with a masher, or a fork, and keep mashing until smooth. Mash first, then beat in the butter and cream with a wooden spoon. Doing it this way means you’ll still end up with a nice smooth puree)
4. Keep the puree warm until needed

Method for the Shredded Cabbage 

1. Remove the core from the hispi cabbage, and separate the leaves. Cut out the inner spine, then roll a few leaves up together, and slice as finely as you possibly can.
2. Peel and Slice the banana shallots as finely as you can as well, then gently fry these in melted butter until soft and translucent.
3. Add the cabbage to the pan and cook gently with the shallots and season well with salt and pepper. As you’ve removed the tough parts of the cabbage, it actually cooks in a surprisingly small amount of time. You want the cabbage to retain a bit of a crunch to add a bit of texture to this otherwise soft and squidgy dish so cook this at the last minute to retain this crunch. If you keep it warm, it will go soft, however it will still taste delicious.

Method for the Crispy Shallots 

1. Finely slice the shallots
2. Pour vegetable in to a small pan to about a 1 inch depth and heat until about 180c. Drop a small piece of shallot in, if it sizzles then you’re ready to go.
3. Drop all the shallots in to the hot oil and fry until they are brown. Drain them and put on to kitchen roll. Give them a stir about with a chopstick or spoon to try and get as much of the oil off as possible. Leave them in a warm oven and they should crisp up nicely. When ready to serve, season with salt, and the smoked paprika and shake it all together.

Method for the Chorizo garnish 

1. Slice the cooking chorizo length ways, about half a centimetre wide. You can either fry these strips until crispy, or put on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment, then put another layer of parchment over the top, then put another baking sheet on top. Put in the oven at about 180c and leave until crispy, shouldn’t take much more than ten minutes.

To Serve 

1. Spoon a decent portion of the potato and parsnip mix on to a plate. If you are going for the snazzy approach, it’s nice to use a piping bag and pipe a nice “mountain” on to the plate, like a big walnut whip!
2. Place a portion of the cabbage on the plate about the size of two cheeks, then place two cheeks on top of the cabbage.
3. Pour some sauce over the cheeks, then sprinkle the whole dish with crispy shallots.
4. Place a chorizo strip in to the potato mountain
5. Finally, drizzle each dish with the retained porky sherry syrup
6. Serve. If you have very hungry guests, you could always add another veg. Glazed carrots go particularly nicely. However, it is highly likely that your guests would prefer to save room for the 3rd cheek rather than fill up on root veg!!

As you can see, the recipe can be easily scaled up if you have more guests, and it makes for an impressive looking dish. The two plates with only one cheek were for the kids. They both came back for more!

Supermarket garlic is mostly terrible in my experience. Generally, very small bulbs with tiny little cloves that lack flavour. Try farm shops, or smaller independent shops (we have a Costcutter near us, that surprisingly has amazing fruit and veg for instance!) Or, treat yourself to a bunch from the garlic farm on the Isle of Wight (well worth a visit). Might cost a bit more, but it lasts for ages if you leave it on the stems with all the others and hang in your kitchen in sunlight if possible. If you keep garlic in a pot or cupboard then it thinks it’s been planted and starts to grow green shoots. When this happens, you lose the strong, pungent garlic flavour.


  1. Looks proper lush that Criggy!

  2. Thanks Larry, similar to how you do cheeks isn't it? I love them so much!

  3. Wow, nice tips there, we’re thinking about spending a week or so in Italy this year with my family. I think there are quite interesting ideas to keep in mind, thanks a lot for these, appreciate it.
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