Saturday, 27 November 2010

Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes - Ham Hock and Pork Cheeks

Well, I've actually been a bit busy over the past couple of days. Some of you may scoff at that, but I don't care!  I've actually been working out what to do with my life and I feel as though I've made a few decisions and, in turn, made some progress. I've got a couple of things lined up for next week, which may or may not result in anything, but at least I'm moving in the right direction.   

Of course, I have still had time for a bit of cooking; after all I need to eat! The title is a bit misleading.  I haven't quite done the whole head, shoulders, knees and toes, but I have cooked a ham hock (which is the lower part of the pig's leg) and pork cheeks (and that is cheeks from the FACE, in case you were wondering). Of course everything is from the market and buying all that meat, or rather carting it home, was quite a challenge. The cheeks do not come nicely trimmed (more on that later), and the hocks are pretty big.  Carrying all my goodies home, I actually felt like I was carrying a dead body. But as I'm always after a bargain, I persevered. After all, the cheeks were 50p each and the hock was about £1.60; fantastic!

Once at home, the first thing to do was soak the hock in water as it needed a good overnight soaking in several changes of water to try and get as much of the salt out as possible. I also prepared the pork cheeks and stuck them in the freezer. As I have said, there will be more on this later and the squeamish should probably refrain from reading that section of the blog!

The recipe I used for the hocks was Honey Roast Ham-Hock with Mustard Sauce which is a Mark Hix recipe published in the Independent. To be fair, I didn't make too many changes to this one as it's pretty straight forward. It was also my first time cooking a hock, so I was happy for the guidance.

Ingredients - to serve 4

One ham hock (the ham hocks I came across were enormous and actually enough to serve four comfortably)
1 onion, quartered
2 carrots, scrubbed and chopped
1 bay leaf
5 cloves
1tsp of freshly ground black pepper

2 small onions, finely chopped
knob of butter
1tbsp flour
1/2tsp tomato purée
2tsp Dijon mustard
2tsp wholegrain mustard
60ml white wine
300ml beef stock, made up from a stock cube
Salt and black pepper

200g clear honey
60g wholegrain mustard

After soaking the hock, I placed it into a large pan of cold water along with all the other hock ingredient (the carrot, onion, cloves etc) and brought it to the boil to simmer for about 3 hours.

In the meantime, I made the sauce with the view of re-heating it before serving. I gently fried off the small onions in butter to soften them without colouring. I then stirred in the flour and tomato purée, then the Dijon and wholegrain mustards. I'd already made up the stock and mixed the wine in with that, so I just poured them both into the sauce, slowly, stirring all the while. After seasoning, the sauce then just needed to be simmered for 20 mins, after which, I let it cool so that I could re-heat it later.

Once the hock had cooked away for 3 hours, I took it out of the pan and set it onto a plate to cool. In the meantime, I heated the oven to 200C and started making the glaze. Measuring honey has got to a serious pain in the arse, so I just poured 3/4 of a 340g jar into a bowl and then mixed the wholegrain mustard in.

Once the hock was cool enough to handle, I used a knife to gently pull away the skin and also some of the fat, being careful to leave a layer of fat all the way around the hock to protect the meat. I then removed the smaller bone of the two from the hock; I'm not entirely convinced that this was necessary and considering how tender the meat is, and how easy it would be for the whole hock to fall apart when twisting this bone out, I would leave it in next time. I then slashed the fat of the hock in a criss cross pattern and spooned some of the glaze on top.

I then set the meat, glazed side down, onto a roasting dish, and slashed the fat of the other side before pouring over the rest of the glaze. I then stuck it back in the oven for half an hour and this is what it looked like when done;

Ham Hock
The finished hock
I served the meat with cabbage and mash, and of course, the re-heated sauce. It was lovely; truly lovely. The honey and mustard glaze managed to flavour the entirety of the meat and I was amazed at how good such a cheap cut of meat tasted after such little work! The meat was also very tender and it literally fell off the bone. There was still some saltiness there, but it wasn't overpowering in any way and it brought out the flavour of the meat. The sauce was very rich and worked well with the mash. However, if I had a choice (and I probably won't have a choice as Gavin still talks about how much he enjoyed the sauce) I wouldn't bother serving it with the meat again. I don't think it was needed.

Next time I am cooking Sunday Dinner for friends, I'm just going to cook two of these, throw them on the table and let everyone fight over them. Ham Hock, roast potatoes, broccoli, carrots, spinach, mash and gravy. I'm already drooling and I bet I'll be able to cook for 8 people for under a tenner. Can't be bad.
Now for the next section - the pork cheeks. When talking with friends about this dish, some have been intrigued, others disgusted! However, like it or not, pork cheeks are becoming more and more popular and before we know it all the gastro-pubs will be serving them. Don't believe me? Well Anthony's restaurant in Leeds, my favourite restaurant, is already serving them with baby squid. And it isn't just MY favourite restaurant; it is listed number 23 of the top restaurants in the country by this years Good Food Guide, so they do know what they're doing.

Admittedly I have cooked these once before, but only a couple of weeks ago and I had absolutely no idea how to prepare them. I Googled and Googled and Googled, but there is nothing out there to help the pork cheek novice. Coming face to face, quite literally, with a pork cheek is a bit daunting. Apart from anything else, you will come across teeth which are very human-like. In fact a lot of people say that they have difficulties with dealing with pork because the skin is so human like. I'm not so sure.  Yes, it's pink and a bit hairy, but it's really tough and rough and if my skin resembled anything like pig skin, I'd be devastated!

On my first carving attempt, I just hacked away until I found something that looked edible. I cut off a pieces of meat, rinsed and drained them. I didn't know what any of this 'meat' was, but my thinking was to take everything that looked edible and deal with it later. Eventually I came across something that looked a bit more promising; the actual cheek! It was a relief to finally find what I was after and, this will sound OTT, but it was like finding a jewel amongst a pile of rubble, just a bit more bloody! I then realised that the piece I had cut off previously was a bit of tongue and gum. Mmmmm. Nice. It went straight into the bin!

So here is a very quick guide to preparing pork cheeks; something I wish I'd had when first tackling them.  Here is the cheek in its unprepared form, along with my chosen weapons;

Pork Cheek

This is the side of the cheek. Just under the thick layer of fat, towards the right of the cheek is the meat that we're after.

Pork Cheek

So, you just need to slice off that top layer of fat. This is pretty easy as it is really soft to cut through. You'll then reveal the cheek meat.

Pork Cheek

You then just need to slice the cheek meat off the bone. Then trim away any fat, rinse off and you're ready!

Pork Cheek

So much work, for so little meat you might think. To a certain extent, I would agree, but once you have tasted the meat, I think, and hope, that you will change your mind. There is still a lot of waste which is disappointing. I could make guanciale, a Roman speciality, which is best described as a fatty version of pancetta, but I'm not sure that my tiny kitchen, or I, could cope with the hassle, no matter how good it is in an authentic carbonara.

On this occasion, I froze the meat in preparation for another day..... and when that day came, I used a simplified version of this recipe; Pork Cheeks in Cider, a recipe taken by one blogger (Dan of Essex Eating) from another (Graphic Foodie).

Ingredients - to serve 2

4 pork cheeks, trimmed
One onion - finely sliced
Olive oil
400mls cider
4 sage leaves
Salt and Pepper to season

Pre-heat the oven to 160C

I used a heavy casserole dish that can be used on the hob and in the oven and started by gently frying the onion in some olive oil. Once it was softened, not coloured, I browned the pork cheeks. I then added the cider, seasoned and brought everything to the boil. I then just put it in the oven for 1 hour and 10 mins; basting regularly. After the 70 minutes, I added the sage leaves, torn in half, and put it back in the oven for another 20 minutes; basting once. I served it with mash and cabbage with some of the juices poured over the dish.

Pork Cheek

Another success. The meat was very tender and flavourful; more so than the hock. The pork cheek tastes more of pork than ham if that makes any sense?! I guess you just need to give it a go and see for yourself! I am certainly going to cook them again, but I need other accompaniments than mash and cabbage. For a start, they look so bland and they also taste pretty bland (although I did 'perk' the mash up with some wholegrain mustard left over from the hock). Most other veg would work well, I'm sure. I have tried this recipe twice now and next time I'll experiment a bit. I'm thinking of cooking them in tinned tomatoes and red wine with thyme rather than sage. Once cooked, I'll gently pull the meat apart in the sauce and stir some al dente pasta in. Yes. That is a plan!


  1. You inspire me Clare.

  2. To do what? What you gonna cook? Share it on here!