Pork cheek, armagnac prune and leek broth
It feels like the right time of year to move away from heavy casseroles to light, herby spring broths. I used pork cheeks here for the first time - they’re not only incredibly good value for money, but possibly the tastiest, meltiest cut of pork too. And as I had a box of Armagnac prunes about (born of my compulsive need to buy anything in the Sainsbury’s baking aisle labelled ‘Taste the Difference’- it’s a problem) I decided to pop them in too, remembering that they’re a classic French flavour combination with pork, and understandably so. Flavour the broth with whatever fresh herbs you have to hand, and serve it with a good dollop of strong Dijon mustard and - if you’re me - a cold glass of sauvignon blanc.
Preheat your oven to 150C. In a large casserole dish, soften a roughly chopped onion in butter for five to ten minutes, before adding two sliced cloves of garlic, a grated carrot and a sliced stick of celery. Stir and soften for a further ten minutes. Meanwhile in a large frying pan, brown eight pork cheeks (around 550g) in two batches. You want them well browned on each side, not to seal the meat, but to add lots of lovely caramelised flavour to the dish. Once you’ve browned all the pork cheeks, set them aside on a plate, and deglaze the pan by throwing in half a large sliced leek along with a knob of butter. Leave the leeks to soften for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once they’re soft, throw in 125ml white wine, and let it bubble down until you can’t smell the alcohol anymore.
Tip the leeks, wine and pork cheeks into the casserole dish with the vegetables, and tuck in 150g armagnac prunes around the meat along with your fresh herbs. Pour over 450ml good quality chicken stock, bring it to a simmer on the hob, then transfer it to the oven to cook for 1 1/2 hours. Half an hour before the casserole is ready, slice the other half of the leek, a carrot and a stick of celery into 1/2 cm pieces, and tip them into the casserole dish to cook with the pork for the final 25 minutes, so you’ll get a lovely textural contrast between the melting pork and crisp vegetables. After an hour and a half, remove the casserole dish from the oven, prod the pork to check that it’s completely tender (it should threaten to fall apart), and taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve with a good grind of black pepper and smooth Dijon mustard. The broth is rich and filling enough that you don’t really need much to go with it, but buttery mashed potatoes or a nice crusty baguette wouldn’t go amiss.