There’s apparently a pig’s cheek pie on the menu at Tom Kerridge’s new restaurant at the Corinthia Hotel in London. Sadly, this isn’t it. I haven’t been there and judging by the prices quoted in a recent review (£33 for fish and about 12 chips) I probably can’t afford it. But I really liked the idea, so I made my own.
I am not daft enough to suggest that this pie bears any resemblance to one created by a Michelin starred chef (Tom’s comes with raw cream mash, crispy black pudding and a devilled sauce, yum) but it’s pretty good. I love pig’s cheeks, they are cheap, they have a fabulous flavour and texture and assuming you’re eating a pig that’s had a bit of outdoor exercise and good things to chomp on, are perfectly suited to slow cooking.
Although the filling is lip-smackingly good, it’s the suet crust that makes this pie outstanding. Please give it a try. It’s not in the least stodgy, quite the opposite, it’s beautifully crisp. If you don’t eat pork, the suet pastry would work just as well with beef.
The self-raising flour gives it extra rise but it does mean you need to use it more or less straight away because the baking powder in the flour will start working as soon as water is added. You can pre-make the filling and even freeze it until needed, but make the pastry the day you want to bake.
Those people who don’t consider a pie is a pie unless it has a top AND a bottom (and I sympathise but a suet base would go soggy) can either use shortcrust throughout or a shortcrust base and suet top. The quantities given here are enough for a top crust on a large pie.
Pig's Cheek Pie
2-3 tbsp olive or extra virgin rapeseed oil
About 1 kg pigs’ cheeks
2 large onions, peeled and sliced
3 sticks of celery, trimmed and finely sliced
2 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 heaped tbsp plain flour
150 ml dry cider or white wine
About 250 ml chicken stock
1 tspn fresh thyme leaves (or 1/2 tspn dried)
1 tbsp fresh sage leaves, finely chopped (or 1 tspn, dried)
2 bay leaves, fresh or dried
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the pastry:
250g self-raising flour
Up to 175 ml very cold water
Pinch of salt
Beaten egg, to glaze
Pre-heat the oven to 160C/350F/Gas Mark 4.
Cut the pigs’ cheeks into bite-sized chunks, removing any silvery membrane. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a deep casserole, one which will go on the hob and in the oven. Brown the meat in batches and set aside.
Add more oil to the pan if necessary and gently fry the onions and celery, adding a pinch of salt to get them to give up their water, until soft and golden. Add the garlic and cook for a few minutes more.
Put the meat back in the pan, together with any juices. Add the flour, mix well and cook off for a few minutes, then gradually stir in the cider. Let it bubble up, then add just enough chicken stock to cover the meat. Stir in the herbs and season with salt and pepper.
Bring the the boil, cover tightly and cook in the oven for 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours, or until the pork is tender. Check and stir at roughly the halfway point. Once cooked, remove from the oven, check the seasoning and thicken the sauce further if necessary. A classier cook would use beurre manié, I use cornflour mixed with a little cold water. Allow the filling to cool.
To make the pastry, mix together the flour, salt and suet in a large bowl. Gradually add about 125 ml of the water and mix with your hand (one hand is advisable, keeps the other clean!) until the dough comes together. Add a little more water if it’s too dry. Don’t overwork it, it should be soft but not sticky. Form it into a disc, wrap and chill for 20 minutes.
Pre-heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas Mark 6. Put the filling into a pie dish, reserving any excess sauce to use as a gravy.
On a lightly floured board, roll out the pastry 1/2 cm thick, brush the edge of the dish with a little beaten egg and cover with the pastry. Use any off-cuts to decorate the top, brush with egg and make a small hole for the steam to escape, or use a pie funnel. Bake for 30-35 minutes until the pastry is crisp and golden.