This was one of the first recipes I featured on the blog many moons ago. It’s a rich, deliciously intense dish, in which pig cheeks are slowly braised in red wine, vegetables and caraway until they are so exquisitely tender they fall apart at the touch of a fork, and, if you weren’t upfront with your dinner guests, they would never dream they were eating offal. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve never actually tried tricking anyone into eating pig cheeks before, but it would be rather interesting to see how it worked out. Anyway, I know my lot love this dish and they are generally pretty squeamish about eating ‘funny bits of animal’.
I thought I should enter these pig cheeks into this month’s Spice Trail challenge, which is calling for people’s favourite caraway recipes, as this is undoubtedly one of mine. The plan had been to simply link up my previous recipe post (badly lit photos and all), but then I spotted some pig cheeks on the butcher’s counter – rather unusual as I normally have to put in a special request for them. So I took that as a sign I had to make the dish again, especially for The Spice Trail. Such a hardship, I ask you. The things I do for this blog.
I always serve these braised pig cheeks with some kind of vegetable mash. It just seems to work so well with the rich sauce, and creates the most blissfully comforting of dishes. When I featured it on the blog previously I went for celeriac mash; this time it is carrot and parsnip. It could simply be mashed potato. Your call.
Braised pig cheeks with carrot and parsnip 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 mash
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 large parsnip, peeled and chopped
splash of milk
salt and pepper
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 carrots and parsnip in a pan of salted water for around 10 minutes. Add the butter, milk and a little seasoning, and mash well or puree with a hand blender.
When cooked, remove the cheeks from the pan 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!
This is my last entry for February’s Spice Trail challenge, which celebrates cooking with caraway.
And I am also entering this dish into Ren Behan’s Simple and in Season event as both carrot and parsnip are certainly in season right now.