Chilli & Soy Pork Cheeks, Watermelon, Mint & Feta Salad

If I’ve got a signature dish I suppose it’d be these. They started out a long time ago at University when I was very hungry and had a look in the store cupboard. I had some fairly manky looking chillis, some soy sauce and some dried noodles. Necessity being the mother of invention, I set to work. I sliced & fried the chillis and then added the soy, reduced down to thicken, then tossed the cooked noodles with this. I loved the result; sticky, hot and deeply savoury (I suppose now I’d say with deep umami flavours).

I kept on making it, adding ingredients and taking away as I saw fit. Given my love of pork it was natural that some piggy bits would end up in the dish and a favourite incarnation of the dish was chunks of pork shoulder cooked down until they completely fell apart in the sauce and then tossed with the noodles & topped with spring onions (spicy pulled pork before it was trendy!)

If you fancy the above recipe it’s pretty simple, follow the instructions below, substituting the cheeks with cubes of shoulder and allow to completely collapse into the sauce.

You will need

Pork cheeks
Fresh chillis (I use birdseye)
Dried chilli flakes (you want both kinds of chillis to give you a fresh taste and a background kick)
Soy sauce (HP premium is perfect for this – currently available at Quality Save for 59p a bottle!)
Good stock, this is vital. You need a stock with proper body to make this work. My current ingredients are 7kg chicken frames, 5kg beef bones & 3 split trotters.

• In a large pan add oil then sear the cheeks if needs be work in batches to get a nice colour on them
• Remove the cheeks from the pan and add the fresh, sliced chillis – this is completely a matter of taste but you need to be able to taste them, then when they’re just getting brown add the pinch of dried flakes and return the cheeks to the pan
• Pour in some soy and stock (ideally warm first so the pan doesn’t lose heat) in about a 50-50 ratio to cover the cheeks
• Reduce the heat and simmer for about 2-4 hours, tasting the liquid as you go. Stir and turn the cheeks over regularly. This seems pretty vague but different cheeks, hobs etc will yield vastly different results. Add more of the stock & soy mixture if required, but remember you’re looking for a thick sauce that coats the cheeks
• You’re looking for the cheeks to still be intact but ready to fall apart when squeezed and the sauce to be rich, thick & sticky
• Taste & seasoning, with the chilli & soy, you probably won’t need salt and pepper but add at the end as required.
• The dish can be cooled down and held at this point.
• If you did cool it then reheat VERY gently as the sauce will have solidified
• Ensure every cheek is hot and covered in the black sauce before serving.

These can be sliced into 2 or 3 pieces and served in many different ways such as canapés, however my current favourite is to serve them whole with the following salad

Watermelon, Feta and mint salad.

Half a standard watermelon, straight out of the fridge – it needs to be cold
A standard pack of feta
A bunch of fresh mint (about half a supermarket packet)
Red wine vinegar

• Crush the feta with your hands into a large mixing bowl, it should retain some texture but you don’t want large chunks – it’s more of a dressing than a constituent part.
• Add salt (maybe not required – taste the feta), fresh pepper and a good splash of red wine vinegar.
• Mix through and leave to stand for 15-30 minutes
• Peel the watermelon and chop into smallish bite-size chunks
• Tear the mint leaves from their stalks and roughly tear, don’t chop as they’ll discolour too quickly and overpower the salad
• Toss the melon, feta dressing & mint together so everything is well mixed and serve immediately.

With thanks to @bacononthebeech for the image – his blog on it here:

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