Pork cheeks with polenta

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Use Food Urchin's slow cooking recipe to make soft and silky pork cheeks. The pig cheeks are beautifully complemented by a sauce of chicken stock, passata and a fruity red wine. Season and envigour the pork cheeks with some cheesy polenta and a scattering of gremolata.

First published in 2015

For this forthcoming Father’s Day, rather than be waited on hand and foot, it is highly likely that I will be in the kitchen, cooking away. And to be honest, I really don’t mind. Whilst it would be lovely to swing in my makeshift hammock in the garden and have two little minions bring a selection of grapes, snacks and cold beers every time I ring a little bell, that is not going to happen. The twins, who are growing up far too fast, will be far too busy tearing up the lawn on their bikes or listening to Katy Bloody Perry or generally turning their rooms upside-down.

Whenever I do get into the kitchen on a Sunday, for some culinary me time, intrigue always gets the better of them and they are often to be found by my side, issuing a thousand questions about food. Like “Does cheese come from Africa?”

The saving grace is that throughout it all, because it will be Father’s Day soon (my day) I will have the ultimate say in what we have to eat and that will be something rich, meaty, comforting and yielding; like pork cheeks, braised in stock, with herbs and wine.

It might seem odd to suggest slow cooking in June, what with all the wonderful weather we are having (ha!) but there really is no other way to treat these beautiful and inexpensive nuggets of porcine joy. They might appear overworked and turgid at first but give them a few hours bathed in simmering liquor and the melting vein of gelatin that runs through the cheek will do wonders for the meat, making it all silky and soft. The sauce, built upon the building blocks of Essential Cuisine chicken stock, passata and a fruity red wine, compliments the pork perfectly and the cheesy polenta, again using Essential Cuisine vegetable stock, ramps up the savoury factor to 11. The rocket is an interesting addition as Iike to use it every now and then as I would spinach, just wilted for colour and an extra dimension of pepper. Add a pinch of crispy bacon lardons across the plate, with some earthy fried mushrooms and a scattering of gremolata to season and envigour and well, this is my idea of the perfect meal to eat on Father’s Day.

The main point being, that once the preparation is done and everything is gently cooking away, this is the best sort of dish because it allows me to spend some quality time with my family. At least four hours of fun and frolics I’d say, before all gathering back around the table.





First heat your oven to 140C. Then take a casserole dish that comes with a lid and place on the hob over a high heat. Add a splash of oil, lightly season the pork cheeks with salt and pepper and quickly brown them all over. You may have to do this in two batches. Put the cheeks to one side on a plate and turn the heat down to medium. Add some more oil and then throw in the onion, carrot, celery, garlic and oregano, cover and sweat for 10 minutes until everything is soft. Add the red wine and cook off the alcohol for about 5 minutes, then place the cheeks back on top of the vegetables. Pour the chicken stock over the top, along with the passata. Bring up to the boil and then cover and put the casserole in the oven. Cook for 3 to 4 hours, checking every now and then on the cheeks, they should be very soft and starting to fall apart when done
Remove the pork cheeks from the sauce, cover and keep in a warm place, then strain the remaining liquid into a saucepan using a sieve or chinois. Using the back of a spoon, push as much sauce out as possible. When done, place the saucepan on the hob and reduce by half
Cook your polenta by bring the light vegetable stock to the boil and then add the maize flour, stirring all the while, until it thickens. The regular stuff in the supermarket takes about 8-10 minutes and about 5 minutes in, you need to add the Parmesan cheese and continue stirring. Season with pepper and finishing off with a knob of butter doesn’t hurt either
For the bacon and mushrooms, simply fry them off in a pan with a small dash of oil until they crisp up and mix up the lemon zest, parsley and garlic in a small bowl for the gremolata. And the wet rocket really just needs a very quick flash in a pan over the hob for it to shrink down, say 30 seconds. Don’t overcook it, otherwise it will turn slimey
Bring everything together by spooning a generous amount of polenta in the centre of each plate (warmed) and then take two or three cheeks, sliced on the diagonal and arrange on top. Then drizzle a nice ladle of rich sauce over the top, along with the mushroom and bacon. And finish with a healthy scattering of gremolata across the plate

Danny is a food adventurer, home grower, supper club host and writer of the entertaining and quirky epicurean blog, Food Urchin.

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