I’ve had pigs cheeks a couple of times. At Wild Honey they were amazing. And the other time they weren’t quite bad enough to be memorable. But they were pretty bad. Cook them with patience and care and you’ll be rewarded with unctuous, deep, savory flesh that teases apart and makes you realise what proper meat tastes like. Undercook them and they’ll behave like rubberised boulders.
I was going to cook bourbon glazed pork chops. But Waitrose had 7 pigs cheeks left on the counter and I couldn’t resist. I did a quick calculation and realised for an extra hour or two of cooking I’d be saving around 5 pounds. It’s very rare that I am successfully thrifty – so my trek home from Marylebone to Brixton with a rucksack weighed down with root vegetables was full of frugal bounce.
I quickly got to work by making a marinade for the cheeks. I combined a glug or two of soy sauce, three spoons of Dijon mustard, a spoon of honey and about 100ml of bourbon. I then threw the pigs cheeks into the mixture and set about getting doing something wintry and imaginative with my vegetables (I won’t bore you with the details of my leek gratin or with my celeriac mash).
After 20 minutes, or longer if you’ve got the time, fish your cheeks out and sear them in a hot, lightly oiled, griddle pan. You don’t want it to be so hot that it singes the honey, but you do want it hot enough to leave delicious brown stripes on your meat. It should only take a couple of minutes to achieve this. Remove your cheeks and put them in a small roasting tin. Then pour in the rest of the marinade. Deglaze the pan off the heat with some bourbon and add this to the pan along with a generous knob of butter. (You probably won't need any salt at all because the soy sauce doesn't hold back.)
Cook at 150’c for around an hour and half. Baste and turn intermittently. You don’t want your lovely cheeks to dry out. Once they’ve changed their feel from being hard and bouncy like an athlete’s six pack to being soft and tender like toddler’s thigh you are in business. Remove the meat and rest it in a warm place. Then pour the juices into a pan and reduce aggressively. Add more bourbon and as much honey as you think is necessary. This will help to give your sauce a rich, glossy depth. By this time your house should smell like bliss.
Pile your plate high with celeriac mash, flank it with leek gratin on one side and steamed broccoli on the other. And adorn with your sensational balls of pig cheek. Then pour over your glossy, sticky sauce and grind some pepper.
All that’s now left to do is to pat yourself on the back. This is a serious supper for evenings of Lear like weather when nothing but the most blanket-like of comfort food will suffice.