Maple-braised pig's cheeks with apple, roasted hazelnuts + Parmesan polenta

Maple-braised pig's cheeks with apple, roasted hazelnuts + Parmesan polenta

By
From
A Lot on Her Plate
Serves
4
Photographer
Helen Cathcart

This is one of my favourite recipes from my time living in Vancouver, when maple syrup and locally-grown hazelnuts were a happy staple in my kitchen. I lived really close to a brilliant biodynamic and organic butcher who I’d pester for unusual cuts like oxtail, tongue and pigs’ cheeks. You might need to ask your butcher in advance for pig’s cheeks, but it’s worth the extra effort as when cooked slowly in this rich braise, they are melty, yet meaty, yielding and gorgeous – just perfect with crunchy hazelnuts and tart pickled apple. I serve them with wet polenta to soak up all those maple-y juices, but it would be just as nice with gnocchi, buttery potato purée or fettuccine.

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
50g skinless roasted hazelnuts

Pickled apple garnish

Quantity Ingredient
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon caster sugar
1 teaspoon maple syrup
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/2 apple, peeled, cored and cut into small, even-sized cubes or very thinly sliced

Pork

Quantity Ingredient
1kg pigs’ cheeks, (you could also use neck, butt or shoulder steaks, cut into large slices)
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, diced
2 sticks celery, sliced
1 tablespoon tomato puree
2 apples, peeled, cored and cubed
2 bay leaves
4 cloves
2 star anise
1 sprig thyme, leaves picked
1 medium glass white wine
45ml maple syrup
700ml Chicken stock (+ poached chicken breast), (or use store-bought)
or 700ml vegetable stock, (preferably homemade)
knob unsalted butter
1/2 lemon, for squeezing

Polenta

Quantity Ingredient
400ml Chicken stock (+ poached chicken breast), (or use store-bought)
generous pinch salt
bay leaf
200ml milk
120g polenta
10g butter
30g parmesan, grated
extra-virgin olive oil
sage leaves, finely chopped, (optional)

Method

  1. To make the apple pickle, dissolve the salt, sugar and syrup in the vinegar in a bowl and add the apple cubes or slices. Set aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 160°C.
  3. Season the cheeks (other cuts may need cutting into pieces) all over with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in an ovenproof casserole, or a deep pan that can go in the oven, and brown the cheeks evenly over a medium-high heat.
  4. Transfer the cheeks to a plate. Using the residual oil, and a little more if you need to, turn the heat down slightly and add the onion, carrot and celery with a pinch of salt and good grind of black pepper, and cook for 8–10 minutes, until aromatic and they start to caramelise and colour slightly.
  5. Add the tomato purée and cook for a further minute before adding half the cubed apple, bay leaves, cloves, star anise, thyme and wine. Stir thoroughly and make sure you scrape up any bits that might have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Bring to the boil, turn the heat down and reduce for 2 minutes. Put the pork back in the pan, followed by enough stock to cover it. Bring it back to the boil, turn down to a simmer, and cover. Cook in the oven for 2–3 hours, until the meat is falling apart.
  6. When the pork is done, keep it warm in a very low oven and cook the polenta.
  7. Put the chicken stock, salt, bay leaf and milk in a saucepan and bring to the boil. When it’s boiling, begin to slowly, steadily pour in the polenta while gently whisking, until it’s all combined. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon occasionally, for 30 minutes, or until the polenta has absorbed all the liquid and is creamy and soft. If you’re using quick-cook polenta, you will just need to stir it into the liquid and cook it over the heat for a minute, then remove it. Once cooked, stir in the butter, Parmesan and a splash of olive oil, and leave in a warm place until you’re ready to serve.
  8. To finish the pork, remove it from the oven and, using a slotted spoon, transfer the meat carefully to a warm plate and cover with foil. Pass the braising liquid through a sieve and put the liquid back in the pan, discarding the vegetables and aromatics. Bring it to a gentle boil and simmer, reducing by about a quarter for 5 minutes. Then add the maple syrup and reduce by another quarter for a further 5–7 minutes. Taste for seasoning and finish it by whisking in the butter and adding a squeeze of lemon juice, to taste. Return the cheeks to the braise to coat them and warm them through over a gentle heat before serving.
  9. Divide the polenta between 4 plates, top with the pigs’ cheeks and spoon over the sauce. Garnish with the roasted hazelnuts and pickled apple.
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