Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Pig cheeks and basil oil

Pig cheeks, the dish that I have been longing to try since I can remember, finally found themselves on my plate on Sunday. Smoked pig cheeks, to be precise. They came from the ginger pig at two for £6, which was advertised outside on a chalkboard. I bought first and thought later, which doesn't really matter with something like pig cheeks because one can just toss them in the oven with some herbs and stock and let the meat be the star. I had some basil oil leftover at home and a tin of chopped tomatoes so thought I would do something with those. The end result was pig cheeks slow cooked in tomatoes, olives and garlic with a dressing of basil oil, toasted fennel seeds and thyme.
I would recommend making the basil oil at least a couple of days in advance. To make it simply pour over a decent amount of oil over roughly torn basil leaves in a saucepan. Heat over a low to moderate heat for about five minutes and then pour into a sterilised jar. Allow to cool and then place in the fridge (strain before using).

It was probably one of the best things we had tasted in a while. The dark, smokey meat of the pig cheeks melted in our cheeks as we softly chewed through the rich flavours, whilst the basil oil dressing gave it the lightness and slight crunch it needed. Before cooking they look very fatty (as seen in the photo above); however that smoked orangey coating of fat is only a few millimetres deep, and underneath is enough quality meat to serve three. Not bad for £6.

Slow cooked pig cheeks with a basil oil dressing
Serves 3

For the pig cheeks:
- large smoked pig cheeks (skin trimmed off), 2
- chicken stock, 400ml
- chopped tomatoes, 400g
- black olives (in oil rather than brine, since the dish is salty enough), handful
- garlic, 6 cloves
- smoked paprika, heaped tsp
- dijon mustard, tsp
- black treacle, half tsp
- shallots, chopped, 100g
- red wine, 150 ml
- thyme, a few sprigs

For the dressing:
- basil oil, 2 tbsp
- fennel seeds, tsp
- thyme leaves, tbsp
- small dried chillies, 2

Preheat an oven to 170 degrees. Heat a large frying pan over a medium high heat and place the pig cheeks in trimmed side down. Cook for five minutes until lightly seared and repeat for another five minutes on the other side. Remove and place in a large roasting tin.
Meanwhile heat a tbsp of oil in a medium/large saucepan. Add the chopped shallots and cook till softened, about five to ten minutes. Empty the tin of chopped tomatoes into the pan and stir in the olives, garlic, smoked paprika, mustard, treacle, wine and stock. Bring to the boil and then reduce to a very low heat and allow to simmer for five minutes.
Empty the contents of the pan into the roasting tin with the pig cheeks. Scatter over the thyme, cover with a sheet of foil and place in the oven for 2 hours.
For the dressing, toast the fennel seeds and chillies over a medium high heat for about five minutes until fragrant. Remove and allow to cool. In a pestle and mortar grind the toasted spices with the thyme leaves, then mix with the basil oil.
When the pork is cooked remove it from the oven and allow to rest for ten minutes. Place the cheeks onto a board and carve into slices. Divide the slices onto plates and spoon over the remaining sauce in the pan. Drizzle over the dressing and serve with bread, and the rest of the wine.

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