Maybe it’s because of the recession or maybe it’s because of an increased interest in nose-to-tail eating, but offcuts are cool again in Ireland. It seems like every restaurant menu has pork belly, pork cheeks, beef cheeks or shin of beef on it these days (the irony being that these are some of the cheapest cuts of meat to buy). I’ve never tried cooking any of those cuts at home, but that changed when I saw this recipe for slow-cooked pork cheeks in cider in Niamh Sheilds’s book, Comfort & Spice. The day after I got the book in the post and had bookmarked this recipe to try, I got on to my man TJ Crowe to ask if he had any pork cheeks he could sell me and I had them by the end of the week, just in time for Saturday’s supper.
It’s easy to rave about this recipe — pork so tender that it’s practically melting, the cider-laced stock so deeply savoury you’d happily slurp it up with a spoon straight from the pot, the fact that even though the kids had some, my husband and I polished off the better part of a kilo of pork cheeks just between the two of us — but I feel like I should keep pork cheeks as my own little secret. TJ admitted that it took three pigs just for the kilo of cheeks he sent to me and said he has to stockpile the cheeks in his freezer for chefs so they can offer them as a special on their menu just for a few weeks. But it’s too good not to share it and I have only myself to blame if TJ doesn’t have any more pork cheeks the next time I want to buy some — which will be sooner rather than later.
Slow-cooked Pork Cheeks in Cider
adapted from Comfort & Spice by Niamh Shields
I adapted Niamh’s recipe only slightly to cook everything in the same pot, rather than cooking the pork cheeks in a separate pan. I also found that I only needed 500 ml (2 cups) of stock instead of the 750 ml (3 cups) called for.
2 tablespoons light oil
1 kg (2 lb) pork cheeks, trimmed by your butcher
2 onions, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
500 ml (2 cups) dry hard cider
500 to 750 ml (2 to 3 cups) chicken stock
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 bay leaves
handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped, to garnish
mashed potatoes, to serve
Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pan over a medium heat. Brown the pork cheeks in batches, taking care not to overcrowd the pan, otherwise they will stew. Set aside.
Add the onions to the pan and saute for about 10 minutes, until they’re softened but not brown (adding a pinch of salt to the onions while you cook them will help prevent them from browning). Add the garlic and saute for a minute or so.
Deglaze the pot with a little of the cider to mop up all those lovely pork bits. Add in the rest of the cider along with the pork cheeks. Bring to a boil and reduce the cider by about one-third. Add 500 ml (2 cups) of stock, the mustard and bay leaves and give it all a good stir. Reduce the heat, cover and cook gently over a low heat on the hob for 2 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Alternatively, cook, covered, in an oven preheated to 150°C (300°F) for the same amount of time, stirring occasionally. Keep an eye on the liquid and add in some or all of the remaining 250 ml (1 cup) of stock if it’s reducing too much on the stovetop or looks too dry — you want most of the pork cheeks to be submerged.
Check that the pork is fork-tender and pulls away at the slightest touch; that’s when it is done. Remove from the heat and stir in the parsley. Serve hot with mashed potatoes and plenty of the cider cooking liquid poured over.