If you’ve never eaten pig cheeks, you really should give them a try. They are cheap and tasty and perfect for a family meal.
Please don’t be squeamish about this cut. I’m not asking you to cook tongue after all! When pig cheeks are slow cooked as in this dish, they have the most divinely succulent and unctuous texture and taste like they should cost a fortune. They’re actually cheap as chips. My butcher sold me six cheeks for just £4.
Pigs cheeks might not be that easy to find though. You probably won’t come across them in the supermarket and I don’t know of any butchers around us that would have them on display. I always order them in advance from our local butcher in Frome.
The first time he got them in for me, I was given almost the whole side of the pig’s head complete with ear (times six), and had the rather daunting task of removing the little cheek cushions from within these mounds of skin and sinew. Needless to say I learned from this experience and now always ask the butcher to remove the meaty morsels for me.
This dish sees the pig cheeks slowly cooked for four hours in vegetables, stock and wine and is the ideal comfort food for a chilly February evening. The addition of caraway gives the sauce a beautifully rich and intense flavour. The cheeks are served simply with a celeriac and potato mash. I’ve based my recipe on one by Anton Edelmann.
My whole family loves it – yes even my daughters who are six and three. Perhaps they are too young for the thought of eating cheek to be off-putting. Next I have to persuade my mother to try it when she comes to visit at the end of the month.
Braised pig cheeks with celeriac mash
6 pig cheeks, trimmed of fat
Salt and pepper
Flour for dusting
3 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, peeled and chopped
1 leek, washed and cut into 1cm chunks
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1cm chunks
2 celery sticks, cut into 1cm chunks
2 garlic cloves, sliced
100g tomato puree
½ bottle dry red wine
300ml beef stock, hot
½ tsp black peppercorns
2 tsp caraway seeds
1 bay leaf
For the celeriac mash
Half a celeriac, peeled and chopped
4 large potatoes, peeled and chopped
Preheat the oven to 140°C/gas 1.
Season the pig cheeks and dust with the flour. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large ovenproof pan and fry the cheeks until golden brown. Remove from the pan and keep warm on a plate.
Add a little more oil to the pan and add the onions, leeks, celery, carrots and garlic and fry gently until just beginning to brown. Pour in a little of the red wine and the tomato puree. Cook gently to reduce the wine and caramelise the puree. Gradually add the rest of the wine, reducing down each time until you have a lovely rich dark sauce.
Return the cheeks to the pan and pour over enough stock to cover. Add the peppercorns, caraway seeds and bay leaf and bring to a gentle simmer.
Cover with a lid and cook in the oven for four hours. Stir occasionally and add more stock if it begins to dry out.
Towards the end of the cooking time, boil the potatoes and celeriac in a pan of salted water for around 10 minutes. Add the butter, milk and a little seasoning, and mash well.
When cooked, take out the cheeks and keep warm. Pass the sauce through a fine sieve into a clean pan. Bring the sauce to the boil and reduce until it is good and thick. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Serve the cheeks on the mash and generously spoon over the sauce. Enjoy!