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.

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