A few weeks back, I cooked with my mate Fergus Henderson. We focused heavily on pork, as you would expect from the chef who made 'nose to tail' eating of pig a signature of his St John restaurants in London. And yes, we used every single bit, including the feet and ears.
Pork is probably the best-value of all meats and it's all useable, as Fergus shows. With some warning, a decent butcher should be able to get you all the bits used in these recipes. What's more, things like cheeks, trotters and ears can be frozen for affordable future meals.
Baked Quails' Eggs, Trotter and Bacon
Serves 6 as a starter
I thought I hadn't seen this on the St John menu before, but Fergus assures me it's an old friend.
6 quails' eggs
1 pig's trotter
1 large onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
2ltrs chicken stock
200g piece of smoked streaky bacon or pancetta, cut into 1cm cubes
8 shallots, peeled and quartered
8 small cloves of garlic, peeled
1 large head of fennel, trimmed, quartered and thinly sliced
The leaves from a few sprigs of thyme
10 sage leaves, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
4 large, ripe plum tomatoes, cut into small dice
Sea salt and black pepper
2tbsp chopped parsley
Put the pig's trotter in a saucepan with the onion and chicken stock, season, bring to the boil and simmer gently with a lid on for a couple of hours, or until the flesh is soft and coming away from the bone. Remove the trotter and put to one side to cool and continue boiling the stock until it has reduced by two-thirds.
Meanwhile, heat the lard in a heavy-based saucepan and cook the bacon on a medium heat until it's nicely browned. Add the shallots, garlic, fennel, bay leaves, thyme and sage and continue cooking for a few minutes until they soften.
At this stage there will be a healthy caramelisation on the bottom of the pan. Turn up the heat slightly and add the Madeira, scraping the goodness off the bottom of the pan as you do so.
Meanwhile, remove all of the flesh and soft skin from the trotter, discard the bones and cut the remaining flesh into rough 1cm cubes and add to the bacon and shallot mixture with the stock and tomatoes. Continue simmering for about 30 minutes until the mixture has thickened, then season to taste, if necessary, and stir in the parsley.
Preheat the oven to 175C/gas mark 4. Ladle your hot trotter mix into ramekins, put the ramekins on a baking tray and carefully crack a quail's egg on to the top and bake in the oven until the eggs have just set.
Crispy pig's cheek and dandelion salad
A dish that could be accused of being a mere salad, but I see it as a good lunch. It can also be an accompanying salad to roast leg or shoulder of pork. Ask a butcher for pigs' cheeks; you need the skin and fat on, not just the meat.
4 pigs' cheeks
300-400g duck or goose fat
12 shallots, peeled and left whole
12 gloves of garlic, peeled and left whole
4 x 2cm-thick slices of good bread
A bunch of dandelion leaves, washed and dried
3tbsp extra-fine capers, rinsed
3tbsp chopped parsley
For the vinaigrette
2tbsp white wine or cider vinegar
1tbsp Dijon mustard
2tbsp olive oil
3tbsp rapeseed oil
Put your cheeks on a non-reactive baking tray, scatter with handfuls of sea salt and leave overnight in the fridge.
Preheat the oven to 175C/gas mark 4. Rinse off the cheeks thoroughly and dry with some kitchen paper. Lay them in a deepish oven dish with the shallots and garlic and cover with duck or goose fat. Cover with foil or a lid and cook them in the oven for approximately 3 hours. Keep an eye on them; they need to be tender but not falling apart.
When they are done, remove from the oven and allow to cool in the fat. At this point you could keep the cheeks covered in the fat and allow to cool in the fridge for a rainy day, or proceed by removing them from the fat. Scrape off any excess with your fingers and keep the fat for future use.
Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Put the pigs' cheeks in a roasting tray on the slices of bread and roast for about 1-1½hours, until crisp. Remove the bread if it's getting too hard as it needs to be used for the croutons.
Meanwhile, whisk all of the listed ingredients together for the vinaigrette and season to taste.
To serve, cut the cheeks into rough 2cm chunks and toss them with the dandelion, parsley, capers, croutons and vinaigrette and season to taste.
Pig's offal skewers
Serves 4 as a starter or more as a party snack
Pig's offal is as cheap as you like and hardly gets used, which is a shame. Most butchers would be glad to part with pig's offal these days, I'm sure. You can use a mixture of offal on these little skewers or just one type.
1 pig's kidneys
1 pig's heart
150-200g pig's liver, skinned
3tbsp Dijon mustard
60-70g lard or the pork fat from the cheeks, melted
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
First trim your offal: split the kidneys in half lengthways, remove the sinew and surrounding membrane then chop into rough 1cm cubes.
Cut the liver also into rough 1cm cubes. Cut the heart in half, then with the point of a knife, cut away the gathering of tubes and fat from inside the hearts and any exterior fat.
Cut the heart into the same sized pieces as the kidneys and liver, removing any tubes and fat as you go, then rinse in cold water to remove any blood and dry on some kitchen paper.
Place all of the offal into a bowl, whisk together the Dijon mustard and half the lard, then mix everything together until well coated. Skewer up the offal (wooden kebab skewers are good but metals ones will do, or cocktail sticks if you are making snack-sized ones).
Heat the skewered lard in a heavy frying pan or ribbed griddle and cook for a minute or so on each side until well coloured on the outside yet still pink on the inside. Serve with more mustard – or whatever takes your fancy... Lunch on a stick!
Pressed pigs' ears
This is as close as it gets to turning a sow's ear into a silk purse says Fergus.
One could be forgiven for thinking of ears as rubbery things, not blessed with much culinary potential. Well, think again.
Pigs' ears are not expensive so don't be shy; ask your butcher, who should have no problem getting them, as where there are pigs there must be ears.
You can use this as a starter sliced, or cut it into cubes and serve it as a snack on sticks with mustard or pickles, such as gherkins.
12-14 pigs' ears, cleaned preferably by your butcher with any remaining hair shaved off with a razor
Pigs' trotters, cleaned
2 onions, peeled, halved and roughly chopped
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 leeks, cleaned and roughly chopped
2 sticks of celery, washed and roughly chopped
1 head of garlic, halved
A bouquet garni
Enough very light chicken stock to cover the above ingredients (about 2 litres)
Wash the ears thoroughly and soak in fresh water with a couple of handfuls of salt for a day. Wash the ears off in fresh cold water and cut them in half.
Put the ears and trotters in a pan with the stock, all the vegetables and the bouquet garni, bring to the boil and simmer for about 3 hours or until the ears and trotters are tender (if you have a pressure cooker it will take half the time).
After the allotted time, carefully take out the ears, making sure they're cool enough to handle. Next, remove any hard cartilage then layer them in a terrine mould or similar-sized rectangular container or bread tin lined with clingfilm.
Strain the cooking liquid, discard the vegetables and put the remaining liquid and trotters into a clean pan. Place on the stove top and simmer until reduced to the point where it will yield enough to just cover the ears. Check for seasoning – remember it is going to be served cold, which always dulls the flavour.
Pour the reduced liquid over the ears, cut a bit of cardboard to fit in your mould, fold the clingfilm over the ears and place the cardboard on top. Apply weights to it – tins of tomato and so on – allow to cool, then leave in the fridge overnight. Next day, it is ready to eat.
To serve, cut into 1cm-thick slices or cubes as in the picture above.