Saturday, 27 November 2010

And this little piggy went...

I love my local butchers. I love the variety of produce that they carry, I love the quality of their meat and their willingness to help. They never let me down. They can advise on cooking methods and portion size and they are always interested in the success of my dish when I pay my next visit. So I have to thank them for the pig jowls I recently bought, not only one of the cheapest cuts on the market but by far the tastiest ragu I have ever created. On the butcher's advice I bought untrimmed jowls (even cheaper than smaller pig cheeks) and then I took the fatty skin off at home. I turned the fat into crisp, perfect pork scratchings while using the rest of the cheeks with uncooked chorizo sausages to create a deeply flavoured ragu. The sauce is intense, the smoky paprika of the chorizo cutting through the sweetness of the pork while the thyme polenta balances the flavour and stops it from being too cloying. I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

Pig cheek ragu with thyme polenta
  • Marinade of 1 tsp juniper berries, 1 tsp black peppercorns, 2 tsp fennel seeds and 500ml red wine
  • Bouquet garni of rosemary, thyme and bay leaf
  • 30 ml red wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp soft brown sugar
  • 2kg trimmed pig cheek
  • 180g uncooked chorizo sausage (small ones or chopped into 5 cm lengths)
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 1 stick celery, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp tomato purée
  • 1 can chopped tomato
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • S&P to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 160 C.
  2. In a large bowl mix the wine, juniper berries, fennel seeds and peppercorns. Place the cheeks and chorizo in the bowl making sure all the meat is covered with the liquid. Leave to marinade in the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours, ideally over night. When the marinade is done, remove the meat and pat dry with a clean towel, then strain the wine liquor into a jug for use later.
  3. In a flame-proof casserole fry the pig cheeks in the olive oil until golden brown on each side and then remove from the pan.
  4. Sauté the onion, garlic, carrot, celery, lemon zest and bouquet garni in the same casserole pan on a medium heat until softened but not coloured. Add more oil if required. Then add the tomato purée and cook for 5 more minutes, stirring constantly so it doesn't stick. 
  5. Add the strained wine liquor, using it to de-glaze the pan of any pork still stuck to the bottom. Simmer for 5 mins then add the tomato, vinegar and sugar. Place the chorizo and the pork in the pan making sure the meat is completely covered with the sauce. Cover the casserole and place in the oven for 4 hours stirring once an hour. 
  6. Then remove the lid and cook for a further 30mins before serving.

Polenta mash
  • 60g polenta
  • 600ml milk
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 40g grated parmersan
  • S&P to taste
  1. Heat the milk and thyme over a medium heat until it starts to boil, then carefully remove the thyme sprigs.
  2. Add the polenta in a steady stream whilst beating continuously with a spoon. Keep beating until all the polenta is incorporated. It will gradually thicken. Then turn the heat down to the lowest setting possible and leave to cook for approximately 20 mins stirring intermittently.
  3. Beat in the cheese and season to taste. Mix in a few thyme leaves.

Serve with a full-bodied red wine.


  1. Thanks, I was considering making it when you come over in a couple of weeks. Not sure yet.