Madeira braised pig cheeks

This recipe is taken from my latest post for Borough Market, which is on the subject of the Slow Food movement.

The gist of the piece is that the basic principles of Slow Food (stop checking your emails every 2 minutes; chill the **** out; sit down to a nice meal and a bottle of wine … and think for a bit about how that got to your table) seem fairly sensible to me. You can read my thoughts in full here and, if you’re interested, more from Slow Food’s UK mouth here.

Now Slow Food is not necessarily about slow cooking. But as it’s fairly nippy at the moment, a recipe for braised pig cheeks and cheesy polenta seemed an appropriate end to the piece. Comfort food … wrapped in hug, surrounded by a cuddle.

If you can find them, serve it all up with sprout tops, blanched for just forty-five seconds and tossed in butter, salt and black pepper.

Madeira braised pig cheeks and cheesy polenta 2

Madeira braised pig cheeks, cheesy polenta

Serves 4

  • 12 pig cheeks
  • 3 medium sized carrots, diced into 15mm cubes.
  • 2 celery sticks, cut into 15mm cubes.
  • 1 onion diced
  • 1 bulb garlic, cut horizontally through the middle
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ a star anise
  • 300ml madeira
  • 450ml chicken stock (or water)
  • 2 strips of orange peel
  • 40g plain flour
  • Sea salt, black pepper
  • 3 tbsp sunflower/rapeseed oil
  • 140g polenta
  • 800g water
  • 100g artisan Somerset cheddar, grated
  • 50g butter, cut into small dice
  • Sea salt, black pepper

Set the oven to 150C. Place a large frying pan over a hot flame and heat 1 tbsp of oil to a high temperature.

Place the vegetables in the base of a roasting dish, which will snuggly fit the pig cheeks in one layer.

Mix the flour with 5g sea salt and 5 or 6 good twists of a pepper mill. Roll 1 pig cheek in the flour mix. Pat off any excess and add to the pan. Do the same with 3 more cheeks and brown the meat on either side for 2-3 minutes. Place the meat on top of the vegetables and repeat with the remaining two batches of cheeks.

Once finished browning the meat, deglaze the frying pan with the Madeira. Add the chicken stock, mix and pour over the pig cheeks. The round of the cheeks should poke out the top. Add the bay leaf and star anise.

Take a piece of baking parchment just larger than the roasting tray, scrumple it up and soak under a tap. Unravel, place over the pig cheeks, tucking the paper in at the side. Place in the oven for 2 hours 15 minutes. Turn the cheeks over after an hour.

Pick the cheeks and the garlic bulbs from the roasting tray (throw the garlic away, but keep the cheeks, obvs). Strain the liquid through a sieve. Put the vegetables and cheeks back in the tray – this time with the cheeks on one side, the vegetables on the other (up to this stage can be done in advance, left to cool and kept in the fridge, before finishing the remaining steps below).

Place the cooking liquid in a saucepan and reduce by ½. Turn the oven up to 190C. Coat each cheek with a spoon of the cooking liquid and place the roasting tray back in the oven for 10 minutes. Turn the cheeks and repeat the glazing process. Cook for 8 minutes more. Serve with the remaining juices spooned over, the braising vegetables, cheesy polenta and blanched seasonal greens.

To cook the polenta, bring the water to the boil and add a good pinch of salt. Add the polenta slowly to the pan, whisking all the time. Turn the heat down to just a simmer and cook out for 15 minutes, whisking regularly. The end result should be thick, but runny. After 15 minutes, add the butter, cheese and a twist of pepper. Whisk furiously for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool and set-up for 3 minutes before serving. It should be smooth but just hold its shape.