Sunday 28 October 2012

Pig's cheek two ways

Have you ever noticed that the names for meat change? So you have veal scallopini and calf's liver. Beef steak and ox tail. Pork loin and pig's cheek. It's veal, beef & pork because after the conquest, the Norman ruling class of England still spoke French, and would order veau, boeuf & porc which their English-speaking farmers produced from prime cuts of calf, cow and pig. But I reckon the other bits, the less-desirable bits, kept their English names because those were the parts, if anything, that were left over for the peasants.

As it happens, the less-desirable bits with the English names are actually very, very desirable. They tend to need a bit more care in the cooking, but then reward you with delicious flavour and melting texture.

Pig's cheeks are a new-ish discovery for me. We've had quite a lot of ox cheek and loved it, but the pig's cheeks have been harder to come by. Then I saw that ELSCo were stocking them and grabbed a kilo or so to experiment with.

Now, the thing to remember about pig's cheek, if you are used to cooking ox cheek, is that pigs aren't ruminants. Cattle are ruminants, so are goats, sheep and camels. Pigs aren't. So instead of getting all that work chewing the cud, a pig's cheek is not that tough a muscle. Which means that instead of having to slowly braise it for hours and hours to tenderness, about an hour of gentle cooking will reduce pig's cheek to gelatinous shreds. Very rewarding, not to mention more economical with the fuel.

My first pack of cheeks I did in a sort of Chinese braise, with yellow bean paste, ginger, garlic, shaoxing wine and soy. I left the cheeks whole and then sliced them when they were cooked to give more of a contrast between the outside and inside textures. Baby bok choi, halved and sauteed with garlic and a drip of sesame oil, rice and a garnish of spring onions finished the plate. It was delicious. The meat was so tender it was almost impossible to pick up with chopsticks.

Chinese-ish braised pig's cheeks with rice and baby bok choi
The second pack of cheeks I had more elaborate plans for. Since the Soho Food Feast, where I had a delicious crumbed pig's cheek bun from St John, I have been wondering how to make something similar.

What I ended up doing was browning the cheeks with a little mirepoix and just covering them with stock and a splash of sherry, and cooking them until they fell apart at the touch of a fork. I shredded the meat, added a little gelatine to the remaining cooking liquid and poured it over the meat in a plastic box, which I then put in the fridge over night. I remember seeing somewhere - can't remember where - a woman adding gelatine to her croquettes to make them more stable when you are cooking them, but then when they are hot you have a lovely runny filling.

So then I cut the firmly-set shredded meat in jelly into pieces, rolled each piece in flour, then did a triple coating of egg and breadcrumbs, letting it sit in the fridge to set for about an hour between coats. Time consuming, and a fiddle (and takes more eggs than you would imagine), but because of the liquid filling I wanted a really firm coating.

In between crumb coats, I made an apple and celeriac remoulade to go with the croquettes.

Then I deepfried the croquettes until a deep golden brown and drained them well on kitchen paper. They certainly couldn't have been sandwiched in a bun the way the St John ones were - as soon as the crust on these was broached the deliquesced juices ran out to form a delicious gravy.

The leftover croquettes, reheated in the oven the following day for lunch, were almost as good as the first time around.

The croquettes oozed gravy when they were sliced


Kavey said...

I love pig and ox cheeks! Both your recipes have me salivating!
And I like your intro about the pork / pig, beef / ox nomenclature too.

Unknown said...

Wow, so interesting and you've done such fascinating things with these pigs cheeks! I've never had any kind of cheeks but wit your recommendation will now be on the lookout for them, thanks!

Suelle said...

I love the idea of those croquettes, and the oriental dish sounds delicious too. I haven't seen pig cheeks in my local shops for a while, although ox cheeks are more common now - even Tesco sells them!

leaf (the indolent cook) said...

I can just imagine how tender they are! I've always thought cheek to be very, very desirable cut. Might be the Asian in me. ;)

Alicia Foodycat said...

Kavey - they are so delicious, aren't they?

Chris - it has a texture like the best brisket, do seek them out!

Suelle - you could do both with ox cheek, they'll just take longer.

Leaf - yes, but then Asia was civilised a long time before Europe!

Heather S-G said...

These cheeks actually have my cheeks watering...both applications sound delicious. I love pig cheeks for their melting tenderness...but I haven' actually eaten any in at least 7 years. Probably why I can't seem to stop the flow of water in my mouth right now (sorry, that sounds gross. but it's true).

Caroline said...

Wow, they both look like fabulous ways to use the cheeks. I love tender, falling apart meat so these look perfect. Your theory on the naming of cuts is really interesting too - makes sense!

Alicia Foodycat said...

Heather - 7 years! Wow!

Caroline - they were really good!

Simona Carini said...

Both photos give a clear idea of the dishes. I particularly like the glimpse offered of the croquette. Very interesting post, Alicia, and very appealing.

Joanne said...

I've never cooked or eaten pig's cheek but it's very interesting to see how you've prepared it!

Alicia Foodycat said...

Simona - thanks!

Joanne - yeah, not really your sort of dish!


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