It was not without a certain amount of surprise that, on Thursday afternoon after work, venturing into Waitrose for some fodder, I discovered a “forgotten” cut of meat at the butcher’s counter.
In this case, it was pig cheeks – and it was cheap as chips. With little idea of what I would do with it, I bought some: five came in at 82p. That’s right – just 82p (approximately 500g).
The young man serving me looked astonished when he weighed them out. I was merely chuffed and rather excited.
A browse on the internet revealed that there is a consensus that this gloriously marbled cut needs a long, slow cook. I was suitably pleased, since I’d been musing that that would probably be the case.
Further exploration suggested – from (unsurprisingly) Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall – cooking it in cider.
That seemed like an eminently sound idea. So at that point I stopped looking at recipes and simply took that as my foundation.
As regular readers will know, that in itself is one of those massively pleasing things: when you reach a stage of kitchen confidence that you can glance at an idea and then toddle off, without having to measure and weigh and check the instructions every other minute or so.
I dredged the meat in plain flour and then browned it in olive oil.
Removed to a plate, a generous amount of chopped onion, celery and carrot went into the pan to be softened.
From there, organic cider was added and the pan scraped to deglaze. Some of my chicken stock – defrosted – went in too as the sauce thickened.
The meat was popped back in, along with a couple of bay leaves, a sprig of rosemary and two sprigs of fennel – the result of a brief exercise of standing in the garden and going: ‘what herbs shall I add?’ – and then the lid went on and it was left for around three hours on a low heat, with just the occasional stir.
About an hour out, I tossed in a diced cooking apple for good measure.
Then, much nearer the end, a good dollop of Dijon mustard was added, followed by an equally generous dollop of crème fraiche.
And that was that.
Served with puréed potato, the cheeks were beautifully tender and very tasty, while the sauce was a lovely combination of subtle flavours.
It was hardly difficult – but it is difficult to imagine anyone complaining at the price.
In one sense, you can see why the supermarkets don’t often like such cuts – why they have been ‘forgotten’, as Waitrose put it: they won’t pull in a fortune.
But if it’s there after you’ve taken the vastly more profitable prime cuts, then why on earth not make it available too?
Yet for all this apparent common sense, like so many other cuts, this has been largely forgotten. How many people would even know that the colloquial term for pig cheeks is ‘Bath chaps’? I’d heard the name, but had to be reminded.
One thing is certain, though: whatever you call them, I’ll certainly be looking out for this delicious cut again.