Nervous that your culinary skills aren’t up to scratch for hosting that date? Sure look, Pete Wolstencroft has you covered…
OK, so you have had the awkward first date and you have passed the milestone that is the always tricky second date: when you are often impeded by not having drunk as much as the first time around.
Now, you want to show the apple of your eye that there is more to you than your legendary ability to down Jaegerbombs and impersonate Beyoncé on Karaoke nights down the students’ union bar.
Ladies and Gentleman, it is time to cook.
There are few things more romantic than cooking a meal for someone. If you haven’t already consummated the relationship, you will after this. So what you need is an ingredient that is totally bomb proof, an ingredient so forgiving that even the complete culinary novice is incapable of making a balls of it.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you pork cheeks.
Pork cheeks have three advantages. 1. They often feature on the menus of high end restaurants and so will lend an air of sophistication. 2. They are as cheap as chips. 3. They are virtually impossible to ruin.
I always reckon on about 500 grams or half a pound of meat per portion, but then I am a big lad and you might want to adjust the portions to better suit your needs.
You will also need:
2 good sized onions
4 cloves of garlic
Olive oil for frying
A bottle of red wine or stout
A stock cube
Some tomato puree
Dried herbs of your choice
Start by slicing the onions and garlic as finely as your knife skills will allow. Next, heat up a good couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy saucepan. When the oil is hot, add the onions and garlic and cook quite gently for a good ten minutes or, if you have the patience for twenty minutes. (From long experience, I can tell you that the longer and slower this first process, the better the finished dish: whatever you are cooking.)
Next add the pork cheeks and the wine to the pan, and bring the contents up to a simmer. (I am assuming you will by this time have drunk half the bottle of wine. If not, why not? Get a grip!) Crumble the stock cube into the pan, give it a stir and set it to simmer on the stove top, with the lid on, for a couple of hours, which should give you plenty of time to… well, you get the picture. You will get an even better result if you cook the dish in the oven. If after two hours, there is too much liquid or the sauce does not look thick enough, stir in a good squeeze of tomato puree, take the lid off, raise the heat and cook on a high-ish heat for another ten minutes or so. Before serving, stir in the dried herbs of your choice.
I have made this dish with red wine, white wine and stout and it has never let me down. You can do all those poncey things like dredging the meat in flour, browning the pork beforehand and then adding the appealingly golden looking meat to the pan, but none of it makes any difference: pork cheeks are totally idiot proof.
Serve with mashed potatoes, rice or pasta and another couple of bottles of whatever you cooked the meat in. If you want to be really poncey, add a tin of anchovies in olive oil at the frying stage. They will disintegrate over the cooking time and leave behind no taste of fish, but they will add an earthy pungency and a hit of that umami that seems to be all the rage these days. If there is a problem with this dish, it is the fact that everybody will assume that you can cook to this standard all the time!