Cheeks?! From a pig?! Yep, these are actually on sale now in british supermarkets. Not only that, they are insanely good value. This cheap cut of pig gob set me back only £1.24 for four pieces, outstanding value. So what on earth do you do with these? Well the Spanish prise them in a braised dish of red wine and a cheeky hit of sherry so I thought i’d go down that trail of thought for a superb valentines day starter.
If you’ve been reading these pages in the last few weeks you’ll no doubt be familiar with my fascination for what a water bath can do to your food. These cheeks were getting the treatment. I sealed the cheeks in a bag and placed them into the water bath at 80C (176F) just before I walked out of the door to work, this is the beauty of cooking sous-vide as you can come back to dinner waiting for you.
Once back home I pulled the cheeks out of the water at the 10 hour mark. I was quite surprised to see that they looked larger than when i’d put them in – bonus! I was kind of doing a reverse-braise by making a reduced sauce to which I would add the cheeks back into just before serving.
Into a saucepan over a high heat went a dash of olive oil followed by a chopped carrot and a finely diced shallot. Fry these until slightly soft and whack in a shot glass full of sherry – dry or cream, your choice. Reduce the sherry until there’s virtually no liquid and add a tablespoon of smoked paprika along with a tablespoon of tomato puree. This will create a thick, paste consistency.
Now take half a bottle of decent red wine – I used a shiraz cabernet which worked very well with a slight kick of acidity. Pour this into the saucepan and stir to combine everything. Set the heat to high and reduce the sauce by two thirds or until quite glossy in consistency. Pour in 250ml of chicken stock and repeat the process until you have a wonderful rich sauce.
Check the seasoning and remove the cheeks from the bag. Add the cheeks to the pan but don’t have the heat anywhere above low, otherwise this can potentially undo all the good work of the water bath.
While the cheeks are keeping warm make a creamed potato side dish to go with it – you can boil the potatoes if you are in a hurry (around 15-20 minutes) or preheat the oven to 200C, prick 2-4 large Maris Piper baking potatoes with the point of a knife and place these into the oven for an hour. Scoop the flesh out into a sieve above a saucepan and add a good knob of butter and a splash of milk. Whisk the butter and milk into the potato and season to taste – heavenly.
A good spoon of the potato alongside the glazed cheeks is all that’s needed apart from a sprinkling of chopped parsley to garnish. As I dragged a fork through the cheeks the meat just fell apart with the texture somewhere between a braised ham hock and pork rib meat. People often say that the cheaper cuts are far better than the prime cuts and in this case I would have to agree.
The sous-vide treatment really works in this instance and I was so pleased with the end result. The sauce added richness and a touch of acidity partnering perfectly with the creamed potato. It’s comfort food elevated to occasion standard. I love it and I hope you will too.