Monday, 23 August 2010

THE CHEEK OF IT!

Good old Waitrose, tapping into the zeitgeist (I've always wanted to write that!), and in our recession-hit times offering "forgotten cuts" on the butcher's counter of their stores.

Of course, "forgotten cuts" are not really forgotten. I ate ham hocks and pigs trotters when I was a child, cooked slowly so that the fat becomes sweet and gooey, and the meat melts away from the bone. My mother also served stuffed hearts, as well as more familiar offal such as liver and kidneys. I am not squeamish about these parts of the animal (I have eaten both brains and sweetbreads, and horse meat in France, and saw whole suckling pigs at the central market in Barcelona without fainting) because I was brought up eating them.

Chef Fergus Henderson has been promoting 'nose-to-tail' eating for a long time, and his restaurant, St John, is a pean to enjoying the whole animal. And the Sainted Delia made lamb shanks fashionable. For a while, it was all rather trendy to eat these lesser-known cuts, until people went back to believing that fine expensive cuts equalled fine (expensive) food. But I would far rather eat belly of pork, or shoulder of lamb, than an costly fillet steak.

Once, the so-called 'forgotten' cuts were actually very hard to find, necessitating a trip to the local organic butcher (also expensive) or a special order. Osso bucco, the shin of the calf or pig, and the key ingredient of the eponymous Italian dish, used to be difficult to track down: not any more - my local Waitrose now keeps both the veal and pork varieties. I always buy pork osso bucco, mainly because it is a quarter of the price of the veal, also because some people are sensitive about eating veal (needless to say, I am not!). Not long ago, I purchased a ham hock, cooked it slowly with leeks, onions, garlic and white beans, and produced a veritable cheap feast. Shoulder of pork and lamb have always been favourites in my kitchen and on my dinner table. The bone in the joint ensures the meat stays moist, even during slow cooking, and lamb shoulder cooked in a tagine for about four hours comes out succulent and full of flavour, the meat literally falling off the bone, leaving very little for my cats to enjoy afterwards! Both pork and lamb shoulder lend themselves to slow cooking and are far more useful, and delicious, in meals cooked in this way than the grander leg joint.

My latest "forgotten cut" is pig's cheek. And by the way, these cuts are actually marketed in Waitrose as "forgotten cuts". I had read about pig's cheeks and fancied cooking them, but until they appeared in Waitrose (incidentally, they are very, very cheap), I had no idea where to buy them, unless I schlepped up to Smithfield meat market, where I'm sure one could find all sorts of wonderful cuts, forgotten and well-known.

I bought osso bucco at the same time, because there were eight lovely, knobbly joints just waiting for me (they went in the freezer when I got home - for a meal in the near future), and enjoyed a cheery conversation with the butcher about forgotten cuts and how to cook them. When he started raving about his penchant for "fore meat rather than hind meat", I thought the conversation might be taking a more unusual course, and, thanking him for his help, scooted off to the cheese counter.

I cooked the pig's cheeks in the same way as I cook osso bucco: a light tomato sauce laced with fresh oregano, garlic, white wine and stock, and finished off with a dollop of piquant gremolata. The accompaniment was plain boiled new potatoes, but I could quite easily imagine eating it with a plain Milanese risotto or fluffy polenta or mashed potato. The meat was meltingly tender. I should add that the pig's cheeks were not very big raw, about the size of my hand, and shrunk when cooked, but the meat was so delicious, soft and succulent, that it really didn't matter. I cooked them in the tagine, assembling all the ingredients together and then bunging it in the oven for three hours. Another simple and delicious supper! (see previous post on osso bucco for recipe).

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