Saturday, 30 November 2013

Cheeky boys - Indonesian style

I love making casseroles and I could eat them every day and all year round. But - until last year - I've always shied away from using stewing pork as I found that all cuts (even lovely, fatty shoulder) turned out too dense, dry and fibrous - no matter how long I braised them. As a committed pork lover this was a source of huge frustration and irritation - until I started to read about "the new pork boys in town": pig cheeks (you can see them in the 2nd photo of my pig's head terrine.) And, low and behold, there they were in all my supermarkets - I had simply not noticed them before! And what a dream they are to stew: like lamb and beef they become tender and melting and they have lots of porky flavour. And, on top of that, they are extremely economical - a kg costs well under 10.

Therefore this year I'm kicking off my stewing season with an absolutely stunning recipe by my new chef hero Bruno Loubet (who combines the cooking of his native South-West France with modern Pan-Asian influences) from his brilliant new book Mange Tout - he uses beef cheeks but I can promise you that my pork version is EQUALLY sensational. And - like every other stew - this is really easy, so don't be put off by the quite long list of ingredients: you just chuck everything in the pot with the browned meat and vegetables and the oven does all the hard work for you:

2 tbsp olive oil
1 kg pork cheeks
300g carrots, chopped
200g celery, chopped
2 onions, chopped
4 fat garlic cloves, crushed
5cm piece of fresh root ginger, chopped
1 star anise
1 lemongrass stalk, crushed*
3 tbsp pomegranate molasses**
9 tbsp Kecap manis (sweet Indonesian soy sauce)
2 tbsp sweet chilli sauce or 2 tbsp soft brown sugar
3 Kaffir lime leaves, bruised (or the grated rind of 1 large lime)
500ml beef or veal stock (from a cube)
3 green cardamom pods, crushed
Grated zest of 1 orange, plus 1 long piece of peel
3 tbsp lime juice

Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C. Heat half the oil in a large frying pan and brown the meat on all sides, then remove and set aside. Add the rest of the oil, then add the carrots, celery, onions and garlic and fry gently over a medium heat until soft. Put the meat in a casserole or ovenproof dish, add the vegetables and then all the remaining ingredients. Add enough water to cover the cheeks with 2-3cm of liquid above the meat. Cover with the lid and cook in the oven for three hours or until the meat is meltingly tender and almost falls apart.***

I also made this (slightly adapted/simplified) Mango Salad from the original recipe - absolutely delicious and easy too:

1 mango, peeled and diced
6 spring onions, finely sliced
1/2 cucumber, peeled and diced
3 tbsp each of roughly chopped mint, coriander and basil****

4 tbsp sesame oil
1 garlic clove
1 tsp chopped fresh root ginger
3 tbsp lime juice
2 tbsp soft brown sugar (or 1 plus 1 tbsp sweet chilli sauce)
1 tbsp sesame seeds

Whisk all the dressing ingredients in a blender (or simply with a small hand whisk) until smooth. Sprinkle the salad with the sesame seeds and serve everything with plain boiled rice.

*I've said it before - and I'll say it again: lemongrass stalks freeze really well - they just go a tiny bit soft when defrosted (which makes them so much easier to use).
**If you can't find/don't have pomegranate molasses (which are tart and sweet) you can use equal amounts of honey and (balsamic) vinegar instead. 
***The original recipe uses double the amount of meat ie 2 kg, and the vegetables are discarded and the sauce gets reduced - but I prefer my less "cheffy" stew!
****I didn't have any of the herbs when I made this - or rather I couldn't locate my mint in the dark garden... but it was still delicious without them - and would be with either just one or two of them too. 

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