Today I have had another day off, and it was the perfect opportunity to make a dish that I’d had in my head and had been looking forward to making for a while. I had really wanted to make something nice with pork for a while, particularly involving pork chops and the cheeks. I have had chops a few times in the last few months, but although each time had been delicious, I had failed to get it quite right with the flavour combinations. It’s always difficult when trying to create dishes in your head, as it’s never guaranteed that they will turn out as good as imagined!
Pork is such a versatile meat, and at a time when meat prices are rocketing, is still really reasonably priced. The main thing with buying pork is getting good quality, well reared meat. Although there has been a spotlight on pork welfare standards in recent years, loads of dodgy stuff still gets through to the supermarket shelves, and it really does have an impact on the taste of the finished meal. You only have to look at pork in a quality butchers to see the difference; the colouring is so much richer, and far less waterlogged and anaemic. It actually looks like it has come from a living animal! And the thing is, you don’t even need to spend that much more to get better meat. The first time I bought a chop from the butchers I was astounded; it was massive, and put all of the thin chops on the supermarket shelves to shame.
Recently I have heard loads about using pork cheeks and have been very interesting in using them myself. Now this is the most budget of all pork cuts, and the two free range cheeks that I bought for this recipe came to a massive 66 pence. Like all hard working muscles, they need a lot of slow cooking a patience, but once ready offer the most tender and flavoursome meat. In this recipe they add another element to the pork, with a different taste and texture to the chop and the scratching.
Pork goes fantastically well with sweeter things like maple syrup, beetroot and apple, but you need to be careful to balance out the sweetness. There’s nothing like having a lovely meal in front of you ruined by a really sickly sweet sauce. The key is to keep tasting as you go, and add the sweet ingredients in moderation so that they can be controlled.
Although there are loads of elements in this dish, you can make most of them in advance, and have them ready to be heated up when the meat has been cooked. I haven’t added potatoes to this recipe as there is quite a lot of meat on the plate, and it might make it a bit heavy. However, you could easily add some roasted potatoes, or a gratin if you so wished.
For the chops:
2 thick pork chops, around 1 1/2” thick
1 fennel, sliced, fronds saved
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1/2 leek, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, skin removed
5 sprigs thyme
200ml dry cider
For the cheeks:
2 pork cheeks
1 litre chicken stock
1/2 leek, roughly chopped
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 fennel bulb, roughly chopped, fronds saved
1 onion, roughly chopped
3 garlic cloves, skin removed
1 bay leaf
1 small handful panko breadcrumbs
1 egg, beaten
100g plain flour
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
20g butter, melted
1 litre of vegetable oil, for frying
For the sauce:
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, skin removed
6 sprigs thyme
The bones and trimmings from the chops
4 tbsp maple sypup
1 bay leaf
1 star anise
For the celeriac puree:
1/3 celeriac, roughly chopped into 1” pieces
3 tbsp double cream
2 thyme sprigs, leaves picked
For the roasted beetroot:
2 large beetroots
2 garlic cloves
5 sprigs of thyme
For the scratchings:
The skin and fat from the outside of the chops, sliced into long, thin pieces
Sprinkle of salt
2 slices of streaky bacon
1/2 Granny Smith apple, sliced into small dice
1/2 lemon, juice only
First put the cheeks on to slow cook. Put the cheeks into a large saucepan with the stock, leek, carrot, fennel, onion, garlic, bay leaf and peppercorns. Bring the stock up to the boil, then turn the heat down to low, cover, and cook for 4 hours. When the cheeks are falling apart and tender, turn the heat off and allow to cool in the stock. Drain the saucepan, keeping the liquid in a bowl, and discard the vegetables. Put the cheeks in a small bowl and shred apart. Add the mustard, melted butter and season well. Mix together, taste and adjust. Put in fridge to cool for 20 minutes.
To turn the cheeks into croquettes, put the flour onto one plate, the panko onto another and beat the egg in a small bowl. Season all of the elements. Take the cooled shredded cheek mixture out of the fridge and make two small golf ball sized balls, compacting them in your hands. Carefully coat the balls in the flour, then dip them into the egg before rolling them in the panko, making sure they get totally covered. Repeat the egg and panko process with each, then put aside for cooking later.
Heat the oven to 210ºC (fan)
To make the scratchings, trim the outside skin and fat from the chops, and cut into long pieces about 1cm wide. Put the fat pieces onto a lined oven tray, sprinkle with salt and put into the hot oven for 15-20 minutes, or until crispy and golden. Set aside.
Lower the oven to 200ºC (fan)
Put the streaky bacon onto a lined oven tray and cook in the oven for 10-12 minutes, or until crispy and brittle. Remove, drain and finely chop. Set aside.
Lower the oven to 180ºC (fan)
Put the whole beetroot into a small oven dish and add the thyme, garlic and seasoning. Drizzle over a little olive oil and mix well to coat everything. Cover with foil, and put in the oven for 1 hour.
To cook the chops, trim the bone and fat away so that you are left with the loin pieces. Keep the scraps and bone for when you make the sauce, but throw away any excess fat. Heat up a frying pan to a medium-high heat. Rub some oil into the loin pieces and season well. Fry in the hot pan for a couple of minutes on each side, then add the butter and quickly baste the pork until it is a golden colour. Pour in the cider and bring to the boil. Put the carrot, leeks, fennel, garlic and thyme into a deep oven dish, and nestle the browned pork amongst this. Pour over the pan juices and top up with some of the stock left over from the pork cheeks until the liquid goes 2/3rds of the way up the sides of the pork (make sure you save 500ml for the sauce). Put into the oven uncovered for 45 minutes.
To make the sauce, heat up a little oil in a large frying pan to a medium-high temperature. Fry the bones and trimmings of the chops and cook until well browned on each side. Add the shallot, garlic, thyme and bay and cook for another couple of minutes until golden brown. Pour over the brandy and flambe, then add 500ml of the leftover stock from cooking the cheeks. Add the star anise and maple syrup and season well. Let the liquid bubble away and reduce until there is about 150ml left, about 20 minutes. Strain the sauce and return the liquid to a clean pan. Taste, adjust and set aside until the meat is ready.
For the celeriac puree, heat up some salted water in a saucepan until boiling. When the water is hot, add the celeriac and boil for 8-10 minutes or until tender. Drain the water away and tip the celeriac into food processor along with the cream, seasoning, thyme and butter. Blitz until very smooth. Pass the mixture through a fine sieve to remove any lumps. Taste and add seasoning if needed, then transfer into a small saucepan to be reheated later.
Pick the fennel fronds from the leftover bits of fennel and set aside. Cut some thin slices from the apple and finely dice them. Put the small pieces apple into a bowl and squeeze over the lemon juice to stop from browning.
When the meat has cooked, take out of the oven and put the pork onto a plate to rest for 10 minutes.
When the beetroot is ready, carefully peel off the skin, trim the top and the bottom and cut into a disc with a round cutter.
Put 1 litre of vegetable oil into a large saucepan and heat to 150ºC. Carefully lower the breadcrumbed cheek balls into the hot oil, and fry for a few minutes until golden brown. Remove and drain on kitchen paper.
Heat up the puree and sauce in separate saucepans. When the sauce is hot, add the butter and stir well, before having a final taste and season.
To plate up, put a tablespoon of the puree onto each plate. Add the cheek croquette, the rested ‘chop’ and the roasted beetroot disc. Place a couple of scratching on top of the beetroot, and sprinkle some of the apple, bacon and fennel fronds onto the pork. Spoon over some of the sauce and serve.