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Pork Cheek & Fennel
Roots

Barley is an ancient grain which thrives in mild climates and was one of the first grains to be cultivated. Many in Ireland have less than favourable childhood memories of mushy pearl barley in stews but recently Irish chefs have been bringing it back to menus across the country but with a more 'al-dente', less overcooked, upgrade. This week we're taking on an alternative cut of pork from "The gentleman who pays the rent" - a phrase once used in Ireland to describe a pig which was often the most valuable possession belonging to a family. Daniel takes inspiration from the past where it was more common to make use of every scrap of the pig, creating his dish around the pork cheek, a flavoursome cut which he braises over a period of 3 hours until it's nice and tender.

Techniques

Butchery - develop your butchery skills further by utilising this underused cut of meat, and further your understanding of nose-to-tail cookery.

Braising - used across many cuisines, master this slow-cooking technique taking a tough piece of meat that does plenty of work and cook it until it's moist and tender.

Pickling - further refine your pickling skills and preservation techniques.

Ingredients
Serving Size
Serves: 6
  • 600g pork cheeks
  • 6 carrots
  • 2 heads of fennel
  • 1 bulb garlic
  • 2 onions
  • 200ml red wine
  • 200g butter
  • 30ml Irish elderflower vinegar
  • 1L chicken stock
  • 100g cream
  • 1 tsp sugar (optional)
  • 400g pearl barley
  • 10g rosemary (optional for braise)
  • 10g thyme (optional for braise)
  • 5g bay leaf
  • 10g chive
Equipment
Utensils

3x trays, 1x large chopping board, 1x chef's knife, 2x small bowls, 1x frying pan, 1x tongs, 1x roll tinfoil 1x measuring jug, 1x speed peeler 3x small sauce pan, 2x medium sauce pan, 2x spatular, 1x wooden spoon, 1x blender, 1x fine sieve, 3x tablespoons

Pre-Preparation

No pre-lesson preparation needed.

Cooking Method
Step 1

Introduction - pre-heat your oven to 150°C/300°F.

Step 2 (0:02)

Butchery section (skip to step 3 if you bought the pork cheeks pre-butchered): So to start off we're going to remove the cheeks from the head. Taking one of the heads, locate the cheek (pretty much in the centre of the head). Pull the cheek away from the head so the fat and connective tissue is pulled taught and begin to snip away with your knife taking as much meat as possible away from the animal.

Once the cheek has been removed, place the head to one side and carry on preparing the cheek itself. On one side of the cheek you will notice a tough and shiny piece of tissue that we need to remove. Taking your knife, remove the tissue with a flat knife (much like skinning our salmon and hake last month) by laying it flat and cutting across between the meat and the skin leaving you with the clean flesh.

Repeat across all of your pigs heads until they are all prepped and ready to go (refer to my notes for the method of prepping the cheeks). If the preparation is taking you some time, keep the unprepared heads in the fridge taking one or two out at a time as you need them. Now clean down your surface and chopping board before moving onto step 3.

Step 3 (13:30)

Now let's chop the vegetables ready for the braising liquor. Take a clean chopping board, tray and waste bowl and begin to prep the vegetables. Cut your onions by removing the tip and the stalk and then cut directly down the centre (leaving the skin on as it is full of flavour and nutrients), before then cutting into medium sized pieces. Place to one side. Next, cut the carrots into bite sized pieces, halve a whole bulb of garlic and tear your bay leaves into the tray.

With your vegetables in a tray move to your hob and place a frying pan onto the heat. Season the pork cheeks from a height with salt, oil the pan and place the cheeks away from you leaving to colour on one side for 1/1:30 minutes. Once an even colour has been achieved on both sides of the pork cheeks, place them on top of our vegetables and return to the pan.

To the hot pan, add the red wine and deglaze all the sediment and flavour that is left in the pan. Bring it to the boil and leave to cook lifting all the flavour from the pan. Pour the red wine into the tray along with just enough water to cover the pork cheeks. Wrap the tray tightly in foil and place in the oven for roughly 3 hours.

Step 4 (26:40)

Take the remaining carrots and begin to peel them with a speed peeler removing the outer skin. Remove the very tip of the carrot (this should be a tiny piece) and thinly and evenly slice all the carrots, place into a high sided pan. Into the pan add roughly equal quantities of butter and water. Take the pan and place it onto our stove on a medium-high heat, leave the water to come up to temperature and the butter to melt.

In another pan, add your pearl barley and stock (looking for double the amount of stock to pearl barley) and bring to the boil. Once we have brought the pearl barely to the boil reduce the heat right down and leave it to simmer for roughly 40 minutes stirring occasionally. Check your carrots, if the liquid has come to the boil reduce the heat down and make sure all the carrot is submerged. The cooking time on the puree can vary quite significantly, what you are looking for (after 30/40 mins) is the carrot to break into a mush when pressed and be really tender, melt in the mouth when eaten. Add the cream to your carrots and leave to come up to temperature.

After 40 minutes the pearl barley should now have swollen up, if you take a little bite it will be nice and soft but still have texture to it. Pour the cooked barley into a clean tray and level it off.

Step 5 (39:15)

Bring the cream to the boil and allow it to reduce ever so slightly, before removing from the heat and blending. Pour the carrot mixture into your blender and puree until its smooth and creamy, set the puree to one side until we need to reheat the pearl barley.

You may have some time until the pork cheeks are finished cooking so stick your kettle on and relax until your timer goes!

Step 6 (43:48)

By now our pork cheeks should have been braising for about 3 hours on 150°C/300°F. Remove the tray from the oven along with the tin foil. The pork should be really tender and almost falling apart when pressed. If you are happy with how they are cooked, take a clean sauce pan with a fine sieve and strain all of the amazing cooking liquid into the pan. Take the pan over to the stove and place on a high heat to reduce.

Now let's create the fennel pickle. Set up your chopping board with a wet cloth underneath. Take the fennel bulb, trim the stalks and then cut in half and half again. Remove any visible stalk and thinly slice. Place the sliced fennel into a small bowl and check your stock. Quickly pick and thinly slice the leaves of the parsley.

To the fennel add some flakey sea salt and the vinegar. Mix quickly, add a pinch of parsley, mix again and leave to one side until we serve. Check your stock once again, we are looking for this to be shiny and thick enough to cover the cheeks.

Step 7 (49:54)

Into a clean pan, add a generous helping of the cooked pearl barley along with a splash of the sauce/stock we have reducing in the pan, at the same time add 3 or so spoons of the carrot puree. Place it onto the heat and allow the pearl barely to come up to temperature and separate back to the individual pearls. To your reduction add a teaspoon of sugar and allow it to thicken slightly, once its coming to the boil (and large bubbles are forming) add in some cubed butter, allow to melt and enrich the sauce. Taste the pearl barely and season with salt accordingly.

Place the pork cheeks into the glaze and warm through the pork, generously covering in the sauce and moving regularly. Clean down and get ready to plate.

Step 8 (54:22)

For plating we will need the fennel, pearl barley, and glazed pork cheeks. On a plate place the pearl barley mix into the centre, top with the glazed pork cheeks and the pickled fennel giving the dish some height.

Serve and enjoy!

Daniel Hannigan
's Notes
Step 2

Before prepping the cheeks, make sure you have your work top set up with a large chopping board, sharp knife and a couple of containers.

The head of a pig is an incredibly under-utilised piece of meat that often goes to waste and something a butcher will often give away for free! Ask your local establishments and like myself ask for it to be deboned!

When removing the cheek work in smaller snips to begin with and then clean long strokes once most of the cheek has been removed.

Pork Cheek prep

  1. Remove the cheek by firstly lifting the cheek itself and then cutting under the cheek (almost in snipping like motions) removing all the meat away from the head. Take your time when doing this and take as much meat away from the head as possible.
  2. Once the cheek is removed, set the head to one side and place the cheek on your board.
  3. With the cheek on the board, take a look at its make-up. You will notice a silver, shiny and tough piece of tissue (often called sinew), the muscle which is the cheek and some fat marbling throughout the meat.
  4. Now, remove the sinew by cutting straight across the meat between the tissue and the cheek much like you are filleting a fish - keep your knife pointed slightly down into the sinew leaving as much meat as possible on the cheek.
  5. If are struggling to remove the sinew this way take the tip of your knife and pierce just below the surface of the tissue and then cut away the sinew in strips.
  6. Trim away any tough bits of fat that are left behind and move the cheeks to one side.

Step 3

Whenever you are working in your kitchen its always really important to have a small bowl for any trimmings that you create when cooking. This helps keep your worktop clean and allows you to work safely.

Seasoning from a height allows us to get an even coverage of salt/pepper on the meat, ensuring we have a consistent flavour.

When pan-frying the cheeks we are again causing two key reactions, the Maillard reaction and caramelisation. Both are essential to the finished taste of our dish and something we have begun to master over the duration of the course.

Braising

Braising is the process of using two types of heat to cook meat, fish or vegetables etc. Firstly, using a dry heat and then a wet heat in the oven. The two heats are often at either end of the temperature gauge with the dry heat at a high temperature creating fast flavour and colour, then a lower temperature while sitting in a good amount of liquid which fully cooks the meat making it become tender and juicy.

Step 4

This module is all centred around sustainability in your home kitchen. An easy way to reduce the wastage of your vegetables is to use their trimmings to re-enforce stocks and sauces.

Keep an ear out for your carrot puree. We want the carrots to be cooking in the buttery water and not frying.

Pearled barely

Barley has more of its grain removed during the milling process than say a rice, which is another grain prepared whole. This is partly due to the brittle bran (hard outer layers) that don't remove easily. The process of "pearling" creates a more uniformed shape removing the hull and portions of the bran. A fine pearl barley can lose about 33% of its initial weight once prepared.

If you burn the pearl barely the best thing to do is not stir it and pour away the excess liquid and loose barley into a clean pan, leaving the burnt stuck pearls in the original pan.

Pouring the pearl into a tray and flattening it out will help us stop the cooking process. This is a great technique for rice dishes and risottos and allows us to prep ahead of time.

Step 5

Don't allow the cream to reduce too much as this will cause it to split.

Seasoning

When seasoning a multi-component dish like today, it's important to season only gradually throughout the cooking process and wait for the end dish before properly seasoning. This allows us to correct the seasoning when everything has come together and not over season during the cooking process.

The texture of the puree should be like lightly whipped cream, feel creamy in the mouth and have an overriding flavour of carrot.

Step 6

Leave a small layer of liquid on the bottom of the tray to stop the pork from drying out.

Fennel is a bulb like vegetable that has tightly wrapped layers, stalks (much like a celery stalk that remains tough and fibrous) and also delicate fronds (which are a great substitute for dill). The anise aroma comes from the chemical anethole that also flavours spices such as star anise.

Pickling

In this recipe we create a cold pickle. This ancient technique of adding acidulation is much quicker than fermentation and gives us much greater control over, flavour, texture and salt content. The addition of sea salt will aid the texture of the pickle with the calcium and magnesium impurities present they help reinforce and cross link the pectin walls in the vegetable.

Step 7

If you are finding that the sauce isn't reducing enough you can add a small amount of sugar to thicken the reduction.

Adding butter will give the sauce a real sheen and also slightly thicken the reduction. What we are trying to create is a glaze so it's important we create a viscous sauce.

Your finished dish should taste rich and full of flavour, with a creamy mouth feel. The pickled fennel should help cut through the richness of the dish.

Get Creative
  • Pickling - change the pickling liquid as you adjust your recipe. This is a simple way to further develop the flavour of your dish and play into the characteristics of the meat.
  • Meat - make sure you maintain the sustainable credentials of the recipe, using under used cuts of meat and locally produced vegetables.
  • Puree - use a variety of different vegetables to create your puree, whether this is looking back to Kerry's beetroot recipe or getting creative with a vegetable of your choice.
Allergens
  • Milk
  • Sulphites
  • Barley
  • May contain wheat
  • Always check the packaging as allergens may vary depending on the supplier.
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Daniel Hannigan
I've worked in both Michelin and casual dining, working with meat and cooking over fire. Now, I own my own coffee and food business.