Braised Pork Cheek Ragù
Pork cheeks really benefit from a long, slow braise and make a super-savoury sauce for a coldweather pasta meal. If you have a juicer, this is the perfect time to break it out and salvage any vegetables that are starting to look a bit sad; otherwise, you can get what you need for the braising liquid at any juice bar or in the refrigerated section of many large supermarkets. Pork shoulder could substitute for the cheeks, but if you can find them, they are fantastic cooked this way. I serve this over pasta but it would be equally good on polenta or mashed potatoes.
|2 tbsp||rapeseed oil|
|900g (2lbs)||pork cheeks|
|6||fresh thyme sprigs|
|1 x 370 ml||bottle of Pilsner beer or pale ale|
|120 ml (4 fl oz)||celery juice|
|120 ml (4 fl oz)||apple juice, preferably from green tart apples|
|120 ml (4 fl oz)||carrot juice|
|fine sea salt|
|freshly ground black pepper|
|450 g (1 lb)||pasta, long or short cuts|
|110 g (4 oz)||Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, freshly grated|
1. Cook the pork cheeks: Heat the oil in a large casserole dish over medium-high heat. In batches, add the pork cheeks and cook, turning occasionally, until browned, about 5 minutes. Return all the meat to the pan.
2. Peel the shallots. Crush the garlic cloves with the flat side of your knife and discard the papery skins. Cut the shallots and the garlic cloves in half lengthwise and put them on top of the pork along with the thyme. Add the beer and bring to a boil, scraping up the browned bits in the bottom of the casserole dish with a wooden spoon. To core the tomatoes easily, slice downwards next to but not through the stem. Make two angled cuts into the larger half to release the core and discard. Coarsely chop the tomatoes. Add them, along with the celery and apple and carrot juices, to the casserole dish. Add some water, if necessary, to barely cover the pork and bring to a boil.
3. Preheat the oven to 135C (115C Fan). Cover the pan with the lid and put it in the oven to cook for 2. to 3 hours, or until very tender. Check on the meat every now and then to give it a little stir and be sure the liquid is still covering it (add water, if needed). Use a pair of tongs to give one of the cheeks a gentle squeeze; if the meat falls apart easily, it is done.
4. Cook the pasta: Bring a large pan of water to a boil over high heat. Add a tablespoon or so of salt. Stir in the pasta and cook, stirring every 2 minutes, according to the packet directions until the pasta is al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain well.
5. While the pasta is cooking, use a fork or your tongs to break up the cheeks to make a lovely thick sauce. Discard any thyme stems you find.
6. Divide the pasta among bowls and top with the sauce. Serve the Parmigiano on the side.