After much bluster and fanfare, it’s finally time to get on with the show.
Nose to Tail Tuesday (or N3T as it shall be known from now on) is about rediscovery, thrift, culinary philosophy and, above all, taste (for a more complete break down of the ethos behind the feature see this post). If we can’t make these cuts taste sublime, or just as good as the expensive bits, then the exercise becomes moot.
For the inaugural dish, we’re starting with these…
These are a criminally cheap cut, often dispensed with or turned into budget sausages. More adventurous butchers, with a more adventurous clientele, might turn them into Bath Chaps. But often they are ignored, especially by the consumer.
Which is a real shame because they are incredibly tasty and, as I found out, very easy to cook.
You could cook them long and slow with stock vegetables, let them cool and eat them, thinly sliced, as you would a ham. Alternatively once cool you could breadcrumb them and fry them. Served with a punchy aioli, they would be delicious.
But I wanted something a bit special to kick off this feature.
Pork and apple sauce is a classic combination, for good reason. The sweetness and faint acidity of the apple cuts perfectly through the fatty richness of pork meat.
With this in mind I chose to confit the pork cheeks, stuff them with stewed apple and serve them, sliced, with apple jelly, candied bacon, spiced parsnip puree and seasonal greens.
Pork and apple, perhaps, but not in the traditional sense.
This is good slow cooking, perfect for a Sunday when you can turn on the radio, fill the house with the most delicious smells and take your time. It really isn’t very labour intensive and you could even do the vast majority of the work the day before or while the pork is cooking.
The end result is totally delicious - like belly only with a more intense flavour. It's got the perfect ratio of meat to fat giving a juicy, porky flavour with the added bonus of crackling as well. This is a rich cut of meat - you don’t need much which adds further to the economy of it.
But true test is whether I’d choose to have it again. The answer? Yes. In a heartbeat, as often as is possible.
Want to know how to do it? Course you do.
1. First off, cut each cheek into three. Season well with salt, pepper and a hefty amount of finely chopped bay leaf and rosemary (about 4 sprigs of rosemary and three bay leaves). Leave them in a bowl in the fridge for at least an hour, preferably overnight.
2. Melt some fat (pork, duck or goose is ideal. I used the leftover fat from the pork scratchings) in an ovenproof dish, wipe any excess salt from the cheeks and nestle them into the liquid. Cook for about three hours in a low oven (about 150 degrees centigrade), turning three or four times. Leave them to cool.
3. For the parsnip puree add one star anise and three cloves to 200ml of milk and 200ml of water and bring to a gentle boil. Let it cool then remove the star anise and cloves. Add two diced parsnips to the infused milk and water then simmer for 20 minutes, or until they are cooked. Strain (reserving the cooking liquid), blitz in a food processor and pass through a sieve. Add some of the cooking liquid if it is too thick. This will keep for 2 or 3 days in the fridge.
4. The apple jelly is easy. Dissolve 2g of agar powder with 125g of apple juice, bring to the boil, stirring all the time. Pour the liquid into a suitable container and leave to cool. Cut into square dice when it is set.
5. For the candied bacon – sprinkle two rashers of bacon with Demerara sugar on both sides (use baking parchment or Silpat for this, unless you want to be scrubbing your trays for nine hours) and cook in a moderate oven (about 170 degrees). Turn once or twice during cooking. When cool, chop the bacon finely. Don’t forget to eat some while you are doing this because it is freaking delicious.
6. Stewed apple is simple, too. Peel, core and dice two eating apples, put into a pan with a splash of water, a tablespoon of sugar and a quarter of a lemon (helps to maintain the colour as well as add an acidic note), with the juice squeezed over the apple. Cook, partially covered with a lid, until the apple starts to break down.
7. Once cool enough to handle, remove the cheeks from the confit and sieve the liquid fat into a plastic container to keep in the fridge. It’s great for many things and keeps forever (almost). Finely dice the meat. Lay a square of crepinette (caul fat) onto a sheet of plastic wrap and press a layer of the meat onto it, almost covering it. Spoon the apple puree in a line down the middle and wrap the whole lot into a tight sausage.
*You could use cured ham instead of crepinette. Let it cool in the fridge to help it keep its shape when you fry it off*
8. To complete – remove the plastic wrap from the cheek and apple ‘sausage’. Fry in a dry frying pan for about a minute on each side (so four minutes in total). Leave to rest while you plate the rest of the dish. Cut the ‘sausage' into half inch thick slices, place on a small pile of wilted greens and serve with a crisp white wine to help cut through the richness.
Verdict – N3T 1: pork cheeks – total success.
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