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by Diana Henry
The first time I ate pigs' cheeks was in Paris (braised, with wild mushrooms) and I just couldn't wait to get my hands on them. There's nothing squeamish about them-we are not talking piggy tails or ears, they are little medallions about the size of the fleshy bit of your palm and cook into the most tender chunks of meat. You'll have to make a special order with your butcher though.
For The Pigs' Cheeks
• 8 pigs' cheek
• salt and pepper
• all-purpose flour, to dust
• 1 tbsp sunflower or peanut oil
• 1/2 cup dry hard cider
• 1 cup chicken stock
For The Lentils
• 1 tsp butter
• 1 small onion, finely chopped
• 1 celery stalk, diced
• 1 carrot, diced
• 1 cup Puy lentils
• 1 thyme sprig
• 2 cups chicken stock
• 1/2 cup heavy cream
• 8 tsp Dijon mustard
• chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, to serve
1. Trim the cheeks and remove any excess fat. Drop them in seasoned flour—shaking off the excess—and heat the oil in a Dutch oven. Brown the cheeks on both sides, then add the cider and let that bubble away. Pour on the stock and bring to a boil.
2. Immediately reduce the heat to very low, cover, and simmer gently for 2 hours. Make sure the cheeks don't boil dry: add a little more water but don't drown them— you just need enough to keep the cooking ticking over. The cheeks will eventually be soft and falling apart.
3. You need to start cooking the lentils about half an hour before the pork is ready. Melt the butter and gently cook the onion, celery, and carrot until just softening but not colored. Add the lentils and stir them in the fat and cooking juices, then add the thyme and stock. Season with pepper. Bring the stock to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and leave to cook. The lentils should take 20 minutes but keep an eye on them: they should be tender but not collapsing and can go soft very quickly. The stock should all be absorbed (for this reason, there isn't too much liquid here, but make sure that the lentils don't boil dry).
4. When the lentils are cooked, add the cream and mustard, stir, and heat through. The cream will reduce as it heats. You don't want a "soupy" mixture. Adjust the seasoning. Lift the cheeks out of their cooking liquid and boil to reduce until quite syrupy. Return the cheeks to heat through. Serve with their cooking juices and the lentils, sprinkling everything with parsley.
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