There are few things as exciting in life as finding flavour combinations that work. I was chatting to Ruth Harris from Harris Farm Meats at the weekend about the very subject and it was great to discuss different ways of cooking with her free range produce. Ideas just come flooding into the mind thinking about mutton, goat, and pedigree breed pork. One thing I find key is don’t get hung up on ingredients. I always try to cook as simply as possible, and also substituting where required. Making use of what’s available rather than what might seem the perfect combination has always been a way of life, especially when away from home.
While heading south on holiday this week I made my customary stop at the wonderful Tebay Services to get meat from the farm shop. Hoping that most nights would see mutton chops, goat kebabs, and Cumberland sausage cooked over coals, yet knowing that the inevitable dreich night would mean something on the hob or in the oven at some stage of the week. Therefore pig cheeks were a blessed sight on the counter, cheap, tasty, and requiring a leisurely braise, they’re perfect for those days where nature thinks that shelter is what you should be seeking. And what better to pair them with than pork’s favourite friend, the apple. The cider providing sweetness alongside that provided by the fat and also a little acidity. The apple giving a little bit of tang as it cooks down to unctuous, almost syrupy, sauce. And this is where the improvisation kicks in. I’ve brought thyme and rosemary with me, no sage, would sage be better, will thyme do? I decided thyme was fine, and so it proved. You can try with sage and let me know how you get on. I might try a splash of brandy next time too. Tonight will be goat kebab recipe development if the clouds threatening overhead don’t intervene.
Pig cheeks with Granny Smith and cider
8 pig cheeks, around 600-800g
2 apples, peeled and cut into 1″ chunks – a variety with good acidity such as James Grieve
1 can cider – medium/dry preferably
2 sprigs of thyme, leaves only
Sea salt/black pepper
Set the oven to 160C, and in a heavy based pan place the pig cheeks on the bottom with the thyme leaves sprinkled over. Add a good couple of pinches of sea salt and black pepper. Add the apples on top.
Pour over 3/4 of the can of cider, keeping the rest in case it dries (it shouldn’t and I’d recommend actually drinking it). Place in the oven for 2.5-3 hours until the cheeks are meltingly tender.