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Despite Hugh’s best efforts, this last week hasn’t been a great one for vegetarianism in our house. It all started with some slow-cooked brisket, then there was a trip to Meat Liquor, a Bill Granger inspired sweet chilli pork stir fry (pictured above) and to round it all off, last night I ate more than my fair share of braised pig cheeks with cider, ginger and fennel.

Meat Liquor first then. Having visited the #MEATEASY at The Goldsmiths Tavern twice over the summer (no mean feat considering I live north of the river), I was very excited to discover that Meat Liquor was opening at the bottom of Marylebone High Street. Techinically the first night was the 11th, but some twitter stalking revealed a soft opening a few days before this, so I ventured there with a burger-loving friend last week.

The burger itself was just as good as I remember and the deep-fried pickles with blue cheese dressing, which should have felt so wrong, were divine (apologies for the lack of photos but it was quite dark in there!) I have to say though, without the numbered tickets, the bell and the complete dearth of seating, comfortable or otherwise, that made #MEATEASY so unique, the atmosphere just wasn’t quite the same. Don’t get me wrong, it’s worth a trip any time for the pickles alone, but somehow eating with your fingers and a bumper roll of value kitchen role while drinking cocktails from a jam jar feels that little bit more pretentious when you walk out of the door and remember that you’re surrounded by some of London’s most expensive real estate…

Slow-cooked brisket with parsnip mash

Inspired by Helen Graves’ Food Stories, and the relatively low cost of the meat, I decided that a slow-cooked brisket would make a great birthday lunch for my dad. I started prepping the night before, crushing together coriander seeds, hot smoked paprika, garlic and peppercorns to create a rub for the meat (a 1.2kg piece of rolled brisket was perfect for four of us with a bit left over).

The next day, I placed the joint in a heavy casserole with diced onions, dried apricots, more garlic cloves, and a tablespoon of black treacle. I added enough dark ale to almost cover the meat, and left it in the oven at 120ºC for the next 6 hours.

This gave me plenty of time to braise some red cabbage with caraway, apple, raisins and white wine vinegar and boil parsnips in milk for a gorgeously creamy parsnip mash. My boyfriend contributed his famous yorkshire puddings, which weren’t really necessary but were wonderful all the same.

When removed from the oven the beef shredded beautifully with a fork and we reduced the sauce to a thick, glossy consistancy – perfect comfort food to stave off the winter chill.

Slow-cooked brisketThe meal was rounded off with a beautiful shiny sachertorte – Dad spotted this on the Great British Bake Off and decided that it was the perfect birthday cake to complement his diet…

Braised pig cheeks with cider, ginger and fennel

If you’re looking for a cheap and filling dinner, this is it – we bought six pigs cheeks for £1.20, easily enough for three portions in a stew like this. Having never cooked these before, I took my inspiration from Anna Hansen’s Modern Pantry Cookbook:

Marinade:

  • 1/2 – 1 tsp maldon sea salt (Anna suggests 20g butI didn’t want to rinse off all the lovely marinade so I reduced this quite considerably)
  • 1 tbsp dark muscavado sugar
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1/2 tsp chilli flakes
  • 1 tbsp grated ginger
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 400g pigs cheeks (about 6)
  • 2 red onions, chopped
  • 300ml cider
  • 100ml dark chicken stock
  • chopped parsley (to serve)

Crush together the marinade ingredients into a paste using a pestle and mortar, coat the pigs cheeks with the mixture and leave to marinade overnight. The next day, place them in a small casserole and add all the remaining ingredients. Cover with a lid or foil and braise at 140ºC for one hour. I had to leave mine slightly longer than this to achieve the melt-in-the mouth, slightly gelatinous texture that I’d experience at the Modern Pantry – excellent with some caraway mash and fresh parsley.

A word of warning if you’re serving this to strangers – pigs cheeks do have a slightly offally texture and aroma. I loved this dish, but my boyfriend, who rarely turns his nose up at anything but can’t stand liver, wasn’t convinced.

Braised Pigs Cheeks

For the first time in six months, the freezer is now looking slightly empty – looking forward to a trip to the butchers this weekend to restock! I’m off to feed the Christmas cake now – Mary Berry’s this year – will let you know whether it’s a good’un in a few weeks time!

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