Pig’s Cheeks, Spanish style

IMG_3696

Simple, delicious, filling, flavoursome and bloody good value; are these points sufficient to have you go out and explore those curious pork cuts? I hope so. Four cheeks cost me a total of €8, or €2 each. Mind you, the real work happens before you begin cooking.

Pig’s cheek comes with a lot of baggage and to get to the treasure, the tiny, fillet fine, cheeks, you need a sharp filleting knife. Once you’ve trimmed off all the fat and skin, cut the remaining cheek meat in half, flatten and dust with seasoned flour.

On the side, you’ll need one, finely sliced, red onion and at least two cloves of garlic gently crushed.

Heat some olive oil in a pan. Add the finely sliced, red onion and cook until soft and slightly carmelised. Put aside and reserve.

Put a little more oil in the pan, if needed, then add the cheeks, dusted with seasoned flour and allow to brown.

Now add a glass of medium dry sherry, a tablespoon of smoked paprika, a spoon of cumin powder and the garlic. Mix everything to combine the flavours and then add a half pint of stock (chicken or beef) and stir, before placing in a medium hot oven (180º) and cooking, slowly, for  90 to 120 minutes

At this point, just as you’re putting the dish in the oven, I added some new potatoes, cut in quarters, and chunks of fresh, baby carrots.

Prepare some almond flakes by dry roasting in a pan until brown and crispy. Finely chop some parsley.

Some people like to serve this dish with buttery, mashed potato. I like the potatoes braised with the meat, sauce and carrots. You could use rice, too.

When serving, sprinkle the toasted almonds and parsley over the dish. The pig’s cheeks will melt in your mouth and a nice glass of rioja will help it on its way, in style.IMG_3698

Advertisements

Naturally smoked haddock with a spicy sauce

Every cook understands, not everything goes to plan and sometimes, by circumstance or availability, that creative improvisation can create surprises.

I live in a small apartment with limited facilities, right in the centre of a city. Fresh food is a priority and, when possible, it should be priced reasonably. There are two weekly farmers’ markets but the choice of produce is often limited and quite often, outside my price range.

All these things in mind, I took a walk to Meath St, where there’s a fish shop, a pork butchers, a bakery and a butcher shop. Starting at the fish shop, they had a special offer of an entire fillet of naturally smoked haddock for a very reasonable €2. So that was my dinner dish decided.

Now, I live just a five minute walk away, so I put on some slow cooking pig’s ears before I left my apartment. My intention was to simmer them, over four hours, in a stock with onion, celery, garlic, carrots, parsnip, ginger, star anise, cinnamon and a drop of soy sauce.

The haddock deal was too good to ignore, though, so I figured I could still use the pig’s ear but cut in strips, coated in flour and flash fried and eaten cold, later, as a snack with some hot sauce.

IMG_3647

So back to the shopping at hand, I dropped in to the pork butchers and ordered four pig’s cheeks for tomorrow, then into Jack Roche’s greengrocer’s, where I bought pears, apples and oranges. Hey, I was low on fruit and no visit to Meath St is worthwhile without dropping in to see Jack. First, there’s always some good music playing – Jack loves to listen to classical crooners like Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby and Tony Bennett – and Jack is also a local community activist as well as an entertaining raconteur.

And that’s the sheer pleasure of living in a community where everyone says hello and passes the time of day with you, as you do your daily shopping. That’s even more ironic when you think this is the same area where the funeral of a murdered drug gangster was held the day before.

When I got home, I checked my pig’s ears, put my shopping away and sat down to do some writing. Here’s another irony; two schools, many businesses and at least six bars in the neighbourhood closed down yesterday because of this gangster’s funeral and fear of reprisals from the rival gang who will bury one of their own tomorrow and what am I writing? Crime fiction, that’s what and more than fifty times a day, I ask myself, why?

Writing does help me relax, though. I checked on my pig’s ears and they were soft and tender so I took them out of the stock and put them aside to cool. Time was moving on so now it was time to get the dinner on the show.

So here’s what I did. First, I put on some water to boil to which I added potatoes. Now I favour baby new potatoes because they have a low glycaemic index (G.I.) rating which is good for diabetics. After five minutes, I put a colander on top of the pot with the boiling potatoes so I could steam, first, the baby carrots, then trimmed French beans and finally, a couple of meaty chunks of the smoked haddock.

Now I had a sauce to think and what better than the stock from the pig’s ears. First, I added some chilli and let that cook for a while then I whizzed it all down to a smooth-ish sauce; it had been cooking so long before, it had reduced and only traces of the chilli remained intact. A quick taste, mmmm, and it was all ready to plate up.

Oh, and naturally smoked haddock is far more preferable than the usual smoked haddock available in many fish shops; y’know, the luridly yellow stuff that looks like it could light up a geiger counter, like jackpot day in Las Vegas.

IMG_3648

And there’s plenty of haddock left; more than enough for a traditional kedgeree for breakfast.

Prawn Masala

IMG_3621

Massala is the Hindi word for spice and, in terms of Indian cuisine, a massala refers to a combination of aromatic spices, in its classic form. In practical terms, these combinations, however measured, give every Indian dish its distinctive flavour. Garam massala is a traditional combination of hot spices – usually cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and black pepper – to which cumin and coriander seeds are frequently added.

I have learned, through trial and error, to buy my dry spices, whole, because they retain their properties longer and when released, are all the more effective and aromatic, as a result.

Ok, most people might roll their eyes at this stage, thinking what’s wrong with ground spice or a jar of ready made paste, for that matter? and, since Last Night I Boiled an Egg will feature economic, easy to prepare and cook recipes, surely if it’s pre-prepared and ready to go, that ticks all the boxes.

Not so, I will argue and hope to demonstrate. If, like me, you’ve spent half your adult life eating curries and spices, at some time you’ll have found a combination and taste that suits you.

Which brings me to the dish in hand, prawn massala. This came from watching an episode of Rick Stein in India on the BBC, one afternoon. My recipe was not featured in the program but it was inspired by it.

First, the ingredients.

  • a dozen fresh prawns, shelled and deveined
  • half a red onion, sliced thinly
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 bird’s eye chillis, chopped
  • 1 tblspn of chopped, fresh ginger
  • 1 tblspn of finely chopped, fresh turmeric or 1 tspn of powdered turmeric
  • 4 cherry tomatoes, finely chopped
  • a bunch of fresh coriander or six leaves of Vietnamese coriander
  • a large knob of butter
  • 1 cup of Basmati rice

IMG_3615

 

 

 

 

  • 6 green cardamoms
  • 1 tpsn of cumin seeds
  • 2 cloves
  • 1/2 inch of cinnamon bark, broken up

Now, there are two ways you can do this; dry roast and ground the spices into a fine powder or cook them whole, in hot oil and butter. For this recipe, I cooked them, whole, in oil and butter.

On the side, I boiled a pot of water, to which I add the cup of rice.

It’s best to use a deep dish, like a wok, when cooking this. First, heat the wok. Then add a little oil, enough to cover the bottom of the wok.

Into this, add the spices. Be careful, dry spices can ‘spit’ and even, explode, when put in hot oil. Stir the spices in the oil to release the aromas.

Next, add the onion and the butter and fry until they soften. After this, add the ginger, garlic, turmeric and chillies, stirring continuously. If it gets too hot and dry, add water from a glass, as needed. If you couldn’t get your hands on the fresh turmeric, this is the time to add the powdered version. Stir in and blend.

Now add the chopped tomatoes and more water, if needed. Your sauce should be down to a viscous paste that is aromatic and hot. It’s time to add the prawns. They will cook, in the sauce, in less than three minutes.IMG_3617

You can use a sprig of fresh coriander, loosely torn and shredded, or, my own preference for this recipe, Vietnamese coriander which is also known as Vietnamese Mint and false mint. It’s musky and more bitter than the common green coriander but if you get you hands on some, you can propagate a stem in a glass of water and then plant. Believe me, it grows easier and far more prolifically than coriander, as we know it.

This is a great dish; easy to prepare, quick to cook and with bags of flavour. Instead of prawns, you could make a fish curry with a selection of this fish off cuts you can buy for making fish pie, so it can be light on the pocket, too.

cropped-img_3621.jpg