I love serving pig cheeks to friends. They have invariably never tried them before, and react with a certain amount of trepidation before surrendering to their soft, piggy perfection. Supermarkets seem to be stocking them increasingly, though no doubt a butcher would be delighted to get some in for you. Serve with something green and simple.
Preparation: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 3 hours
- 12–15 pig cheeks, about 1.2kg/2lb 12oz total weight
- 2 tbsp plain (all-purpose) flour
- salt and pepper
- olive oil
- 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 stick of celery, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced
- ½ bottle of red wine
- 2 tbsp tomato purée (tomato paste)
- 300ml/10fl oz/1¼ cups water
For the polenta
- 1.2 litres/2 pints/5 cups water
- 300g/10½oz/2½ cups polenta (cornmeal)
- 50g/1¾oz/4 tbsp butter
For the gremolata
- a good handful of flat-leaf parsley
- zest of 1 lemon
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and very finely chopped
- Dry the cheeks thoroughly, then toss them in the flour along with a pinch of salt and pepper. Heat a little oil in a frying pan over a high heat and brown the cheeks all over in batches. Remove to a large ovenproof pan.
- Add a little more oil to the frying pan if necessary, and over a medium heat soften the onion, celery and garlic, stirring regularly. Add to the cheeks.
- Deglaze the frying pan with a slosh of red wine and stir to dislodge any bits of caramelized pig, then add this all to the ovenproof pan, along with the rest of the wine, tomato purée and water. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook over a low heat for 2 hours, or in the oven at 160°C/325°F/Gas mark 3.
- To make the gremolata, finely chop the parsley and mix with the lemon zest and garlic.
- For the polenta, bring the water to a boil with a good pinch of salt and slowly pour in the polenta, whisking continuously to avoid lumps.
- Wear your sleeves pulled down – this stuff spits. Turn the heat right down and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring occasionally. If the polenta looks too dry, just add a splash of hot water. Beat in the butter and a twist of pepper.
- Taste the polenta for seasoning and add a pinch more salt if necessary. Serve with the pig cheeks and a sprinkling of gremolata.
Pairing suggestion: Martell VSOP Cognac