August 30th, 2010
I went to see the butcher looking for Pig Cheeks, which I’ve had several times at the Little Bay in Farringdon. They serve the cheek meat on a mound of garlic mash with a piece of crisp bacon. I’ve also had cheeks served on the bone in Barcelona, with broad beans – these were equally delicious.
Sadly the butcher didn’t have any pig cheeks, but offered me veal cheeks in their place. I was intrigued and bought a couple of veal cheeks. Cheek meat has been overlooked in this country for a while, probably because it requires a slow cooking to make the meat tender. When pot roasted in an oven for a few hours, beef, pig and veal cheeks will produce quite succulent meat, especially good in a hearty stew.
Veal cheeks recipe:
I made this up, but it’s based on the way I’d braise quite a few types of meat slowly in the oven.
2 veal cheeks
4 rashers of streaky bacon
1 large onion
3 sticks of celery
6 pieces of garlic
4 medium tomatoes (or a tin of plum peeled tomatoes)
1 bouquet garni (I normally use bay leaves, sage, rosemary and thyme)
a tablespoonful of tomato purée
a small squirt of anchovy paste
1 – 2 glasses of red wine
a splash of wine vinegar
a spoonful of plain flour
a pinch of crushed chilli peppers
sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste
extra virgin olive oil
Chop up your vegetables and start by softening the onions with the chilli pepper, in a little olive oil, then add the bacon, followed by the carrots, celery and garlic. I do this in the cast iron casserole that I use to cook the whole thing in the oven. Add the chopped tomatoes last with the purée and anchovy paste.
In the meantime, make sure you trim your cheeks of any silver skin – your butcher will probably do this for you if you ask. Pat the cheeks dry, season with a little salt and pepper and brown them on both sides, in a hot frying pan, with some olive oil. When the cheeks have browned, remove them to the casserole of vegetables. Deglaze your frying pan with a splash of red wine vinegar and half a glass of red wine – you want to allow this to cook for a few minutes at a high temperature. The process allows you to take any flavours left in the frying pan to your casserole. Pour the hot liquid into your casserole on top of your cheeks.
Make sure your oven is turned on and warmed up to 100º C. Add the remaining wine and flour to your casserole and stir the contents. Don’t worry about the flour looking lumpy, it will dissolve in the oven. Make sure the veal cheeks are covered in liquid. Bring the casserole to the boil, add the bouquet garni, cover with the lid and put the pot roast in the oven for a couple of hours.
I’d normally have a look to see how things are cooking after an hour. At this point you can taste the liquid and add more seasoning, liquid or flour depending on how things look and taste. Common sense comes in at this point. Your cheeks should be done after about 2 hours in the oven – the meat should be moist and tender.
I like serving this type of dish on mashed potato, in a rustic style, with the vegetables that the meat was cooked in. For something more sophisticated, remove the cheeks and keep them warm, sieve and discard the vegetables and reduce the remaining stock to create a rich sauce.