Sunday, 20 November 2011

Braised Pig Cheeks with Apple Risotto

This is Autumn on a plate. Succulent, falling apart, pig cheeks with a seasonal apple risotto.

This dish came about through a couple of things. One of those things was a great lunch at the Pony & Trap in Chew Magna. I had pig cheeks with pigeon breast and lentils, never having had pig cheeks before, and after eating them once I was hooked. Slowly cooked these morsels of meat become melt-in-the-mouth tender and have a richer pork taste than most other cuts. They're a bit like the the dark thigh meat on a chicken.

The apple risotto part of the dish was inspired by watching the Hairy Bikers. They put theirs with guinea fowl, which I'm sure tasted amazing, but I was keen on pairing it up with pig cheeks. I don't often put meat with risotto because the texture of vegetables of fish works much better. But when meat is as tender as pig cheeks get after 4 hours in the oven there's no problem.

So, pig cheeks first. You'll need to go to a butcher to get these, and not all butchers will have them in, but a good butcher will get them in for you. You'll want at least 3 per portion and they shouldn't cost any more than 60p each.

Dust them in seasoned flour and fry them on a medium high heat so they get a crispy coating. Remove from the pan and then add finely chopped stock veg. When that's soft, add about a pint of liquid which can be stock or water, or a mix of both with, possibly, a slosh of booze. Calvados would work a treat. Add dried herbs, bay leaf and sage mandatory but anything else you particularly favour could go in. Pop the pig cheeks back in and then put the pan (or pot) into a pre-heated oven set at 140 Celsius. Leave it for 4 hours.

Towards the end of the cooking time of the pig cheeks, make your risotto. A simple white risotto will do. Soften finely chopped onion in butter - how much onion you use will depend on how many you're cooking for. Add your risotto rice when the onion is soft and fry for a couple of minutes before adding a small glass of dry white wine or vermouth. Let this evaporate whilst you stir. You should notice the rice start to release some of its starch.

Then add hot stock (chicken or veg) a ladle or so at a time, and stir this into the rice.

Meanwhile, blanche some peeled and sliced apples in acidulated water. Towards the end of the cooking of the risotto, add the blanched apples. Then add either Parmesan, butter or mascarpone. Philadelphia works as well. But Parmesan or butter would be best to prevent the overall dish from being too sweet.

Then its just a matter of plating up. Put a ladle-full of risotto into each dish, then add your pig cheeks adding a good spoonful of the cooking liquor over each cheek. If you want you could garnish with some further apple slices that have been fried in butter, or maybe some fried sage leaves.

This is nice alternative to Sunday lunch, but one which will still fill the house with wonderful cooking smells, and which will satisfy the most demanding appetites.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The Spyglass

The Spyglass has been a feature of the harbourside in Bristol for quite a few years now. When it first appeared it seemed to offer everything that had been lacking in the centre of town. Good value, tasty food in an interesting setting.

I remember long summer nights when me and a few friends would have some beers on King Street and then queue up for 30-40 minutes for a table. It was ridiculously popular, but there really wasn't a lot like it.

That it is still there says a lot about it's enduring popularity with Bristol diners. But the last couple of times I've been I have been disappointed. Relaxed seems to be edging towards lazy.

On Saturday I met up with a group of friends to celebrate moving back to Bristol after a misguided move to The North. Nice place, but no work.

So we met up and had a few beers and watched the England match in Hort's. Which, by the way, seems to have turned itself into exactly my kind of pub. Big, with a nice mix of people, decent house beers and good guest ales.

After the match we all wanted to eat, and I needed to choose a place that would suit all tastes and all wallets. Particularly mine as it's a few weeks until I get paid (but at least now I have a job!).

After sometime away from Bristol I struggled to think of somewhere which was within easy walking distance of the centre. One of our crowd was on crutches due to a squash injury so we could go to far, and Park Street didn't seem like a good option. We also wanted to stay close to town for a couple more beers after we'd eaten.

The Spyglass was about all I could think off. And, to be fair, it served a purpose. It also served a pretty tragic looking chicken breast to one of my mates. It's all very well putting the main of the main on a plate by itself with accompanying sides, but when that is a chicken breast with a dollop of red sauce on it, you can't help but feel a little bit let down.

I can't honestly say that any of the food was bad. It wasn't. But neither was it particularly good. Why can't anywhere do proper chips!? It's not difficult or expensive and they are so much better than oven chips. My 'Cubano' Burger had absolutely nothing in common in Cuba, but, you know, it wasn't bad.

It wasn't cheap either. Our bill came to about £130 for 5 of us. I think we ended up paying about £27 each, which is way too much for a burger and a beer. Ok, a couple of beers. Maybe three. We had some olives and bread to start as well. But it was far too much for what it was, which I think sums up The Spyglass.

Thinking of eating out in Bristol, read more reviews of Bristol Restaurants.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Souk Kitchen - Bristol

We've been down in Bristol visiting my mum, before we move back here in a week's time, and she treated us to an alternative Sunday lunch at Souk Kitchen in Southville.

Me and the missus ate here just after it opened last year. We went intending to have just the lunchtime special, but that was so tasty that we asked for the menu again and ordered a selection of the hot and cold mezze, before ordering dessert. The food was memorably tasty and we have always looked forward to visiting again.

Standards haven't changed in the 18 months since we first went.

A large part of the enjoyment and excitement of eating here is the lack of familiarity with the food. Without knowing what something is (zhoug, anyone?) it's hard to expect what it will taste like, and that's something I find very enticing. Thankfully the front of house staff are patient enough to deal with a long list of questions.

They are also comfortable with making sure the kitchen accomodates dietary requirements. I have a fairly severe nut allergy and need to make sure food doesn't contain nuts and won't be affected by cross-contamination in the kitchen.

And so to starters. As my mum isn't fond of overly spiced food we thought we'd start things easily with dips and bread. A suprisingly colourful treat:

There were three different dips: cauliflower and olive, carrot and rosewater and beetroot and tahini, served with freshly made flatbreads. The cauli and olive dip was subtle and satisfying. The carrot and rosewater at first tasted like fine turkish delight but then developed into a very carroty savoury taste which was totally moreish. It was a similar story with the beetroot dip which had the beetroot flavour turned up to 11.

We had a range of mains. My mum went for lamb kebabs as she'd been advised that this would be a mild dish. Which it was. The kebabs were succulent and well flavoured and came with saffron rice which contained sultanas and caramelised onions.

My missus went for a Persian fish curry which she reckoned was the best curry she's ever had, and she had a few of a very high standard during our travels around South-East Asia. The fish had been cooked delicately in freshly made curry sauce full of bright yellows and greens.

I went for a beef koresh with omani limes and prunes, which was a well balanced blend of fruity, savoury and meaty. It seemed unusual to have beef in a middle eastern recipe but it worked really well.

I can't wait to go back to be honest. The hot and cold mezze menu demands some attention, as do the evening specials which change regularly. Goat shwarma was on offer when we ate, and I think offering goat on a menu speaks volumes about the confidence of the kitchen. A confidence which is not misplaced here.

Thinking of eating out in Bristol, read more reviews of Bristol Restaurants.