Saturday, 8 January 2011

In praise of my butcher and how to cook pigs cheeks.

If you're reading this blog, then I assume I can credit you with an interest in food, therefore you might already be a regular visitor to your local butchers, maybe even good friends.  This first part of the post then, perhaps isn't for you, so feel free to skip straight to the recipe at the bottom if you like. The first part of this post is aimed at the supermarket customers who might be unaware of just what they're missing by not getting to know their local butcher a little bit better.
I'm not going to proselytise on the evils of supermarket shopping and how you're slowly killing your local area, as I fully understand the convenience supermarkets offer.
The thing is, if you live in Cardiff then you're lucky to live in a city where the art of butchery is still sticking a middle finger up to the supermarket giants.  I live in a village with three butchers within walking distance of my house.  I know not every area of Cardiff is so well served, but this is Cardiff after all, and you're never more than a 15min bus ride from Central market and the many butchers resident there.

So what does the independent butcher offer that the supermarket can't compete with?  Well firstly and possibly the most salient point I can make is sausages.  Butchers sausages are a fucking art.  Anything hand made with care, experience and pride is always going to trump a mass-produced product and this is certainly true of the sausage.
A recent advert for Richmond sausages shows an irritating folk band being beckoned home with the promise of insipid, pale, half pork, half fuck knows what sausages, well that's fine if like the people in the advert you're a twat, but you dear reader are not.
What you want is a fat sausage, a solid piece of pork and herbs, or laverbread, or apple. A lamb and mint, a beef and mustard seed, with minimal water so the thing doesn't explode in the frying pan, and that is the beauty of the butchers sausage.  It's how sausages are supposed to be, and sadly too many of us have been raised on the mass produced kind to realise this.

The second point I’d like to raise is on the art of conversation.  Your local butcher is a man who can acquire things.  He's the honest equivalent of that shifty guy you know in the pub.  The one who can sort you out with a dodgy set-top box for the free porn, or a bag of weed when there's a drought on.  What I’m saying is this, your butcher can get you stuff that your supermarket can't.
Again, I credit you with being a foodie and no doubt a foodie who's come across a recipe that calls for a cut of meat your supermarket doesn't stock.  I know this because I’m the same.  I watch Saturday kitchen and think "I want to make that dish, but where the fuck am I gonna buy pigs trotters?"  Sadly, the supermarket just wont be the place.
The answer I found was my local butcher.  Not only does he have trotters when I ask, but he generally gives them to me for free.
It's the same with everything.  You're kids want roast pork for Sunday lunch?  You could visit the supermarket and pay so much for a leg of pork that you end up selling your arse down the docks just to cover the mortgage or you could visit your friendly local butcher and pick up some tasty rolled pork shoulder for half the price.  Not only that but your butcher will happily cut you just the right amount and then advise you on how best to cook it.
Or maybe your irritating kids want steak on a Friday night?  The supermarket I'm sure will stock some rump, sirloin or fillet at a price to make your balls recoil into your stomach, but who wants that when you could pop to your butcher and pick up some aged rib-eye, sliced two inches thick for you and one inch thick for the kids.

The final point I'd like to raise is something I touched on in the last paragraph and that is price.  Supermarkets have made a fine art of promoting their value to the customer, and on something’s they are the cheaper option but this isn't always the case.  I agree certain products might well be cheaper at one time or another with offers and promotions, but your local butcher is always cheap, all year round. Lamb belly and knuckles can be bought for next to nothing, and a ham hock will make a weeks worth of sandwiches for only two quid. Filling your house with the most amazing smell and providing you with a deep, flavoursome stock as a bonus. That seems to me to be far better value than the cancer causing processed shit you've been lovingly stuffing your kids with. As for ready made burgers, kebabs and marinated meat, it is cheaper than the pre-packaged supermarket versions simply because it dispenses with the needless cardboard and shrink-wrap. Cheaper cuts of meat are popular nowadays, more so since the recession and that is something to be praised.  Supermarkets have noted this and begun promoting brisket and belly but the thing is, your local butcher has always stocked these things.  This is not a new market to him, it's something he understands well, and it's something we should take advantage of.

This leads me to one of my favourite cuts of all, and that is the pig cheek. It's a rare treat in our house as pigs only have two cheeks and the part that we need for this recipe is the small muscle that does all the chewing. My local butcher gets a pig a week, so collecting enough cheeks for a meal can take time. That's fine with me, as like truffles, or English asparagus, some things are appreciated all the more if you can't eat them every day. If you live near a waitrose (and this is one of the rare occasions where a supermarket deserves praise) then you could be lucky enough to buy pig cheeks in bulk. If you do see them there, then I suggest you buy them all, as they're dirt cheap, an absolute bargain. If however, you don't have a waitrose, but do have a butcher, then please ask him if he can supply you.

My butcher cuts me off the two jowls (which are essentially the entire side of the pig’s face), and charges at most two pounds, although they're often free. If you get given the same, then you might at first be slightly bewildered, as it's an odd looking piece of meat.
Now for the recipe below, all we need is the small, circular, dark muscle in the centre of the jowl, which you can easily remove at home by lifting it away from the rest of the meat and running your knife down behind it.
The rest of you're little piggies face is no longer needed, but there's no need to waste it. Rolled and roasted it becomes bath chap. Even better, you can practice your butchery by removing the skin, salting it heavily for a few days, and then popping it into the oven to make pork scratchings.
The meat you're left with after all this, can be placed in the oven on a low temperature, say 70°C for four hours. Then blasted at 200°C for half an hour, and you'll end up with the most succulent, fat dripping roast pork possible. Perfect, with some creamed cabbage and potatoes.

Back to the recipe. Three or four cheeks per person as a main should suffice, but as this is such a tasty cut, the more the merrier. As you know, pigs by their very nature like to eat a lot, and so the cheek is a well worked muscle. This means that although it's very lean, it can also be very tough. We sort this out with a long slow braise. The gentler, the better.
The addition of Chinese five spice in the recipe might seem a bit odd, but it really adds a tremendous amount, and should be added early to the onions, so that the star-anise in the five spice can work it's magic. Trust me on this, it's the five spice that really sets this dish off. Serve on rice, or mash potato and use the braising liquids as your sauce.


Pig cheeks
Mustard powder
1 Leek
1 Onion
Chinese five spice
400ml Chicken stock

1. Dust cheeks in flour and mustard powder
2. Sear cheeks in hot pan till browned and set aside
3. Brown the onion and leek with salt and pepper and a good dash of five spice
4. Pour in the stock and return the cheeks to the pan
5. Cover the pot tightly and simmer over a low heat for two hours, turning the cheeks every now and then.


  1. My friend's mum swears by this cut of meat! She finds them in Morrissons and will probably kill me for telling the world, because she wants them to stay unpopular to keep the price down! Clever move, but I have noticed foodies programmes using them more and more recently.

    Going to definitely give these a try myself soon.

  2. oh wow, i didn't realise morrisons sell them as well! that's where i'll be headed tomorrow then.

  3. I was expecting a Waitrose reference, but they DO over price the bloody things, alongside charging over the three quid for shitty 87% bacon. The buggers.

    This post is great, and brought a massive smile to my face - although I guiltily buy crap meat from supermarkets 50% of the time. I am very ashamed of this 'habit'... I remember the days we had Pork butchers, and I'm only in my early thirties, to let them die was a great mistake.

    I'd be interested in where you can get Brisket for a fiver a kilo though?


  4. When you visit deli a gogo, try popping in to the butchers across the road R.C. Evans. He's an old school no frills butcher and you should be able to get a kilo of brisket from him for around a fiver.