James St’s Recipes: Niall McKenna’s Pork Cheeks with Polenta

WE have just returned from a family holiday in sunny Italy and as a chef, I like to take the opportunity to discover new cuisines and taste products in a new environment.

We found that a lot of the food we eat in Italy used the same produce we use at home but was cooked in a completely different way or served with a different side dish – this had a huge impact on flavor.

Pork cheeks are a widely used ingredient in Italy and have long been on our restaurant menu. This week’s recipe – pork cheeks cooked in rich red wine and served with creamy polenta – was inspired by my experience abroad.

Polenta is an ingredient that we always have in our cupboards at home and is a delicious alternative to pasta or potatoes.

:: For more information on free cooking demonstrations at Waterman Cookery School, visit www.waterman.house


(For 6 persons)

14 pork cheeks, trimmed

1 bottle of red wine – Shiraz works best

Olive oil



1/2 garlic bulb, minced

1 carrot, chopped

1 onion, chopped

Plain flour for dusting

50g unsalted butter

4 bay leaves

4 sprigs of thyme

1.5 liters of chicken stock

12 prunes, pit removed


Start by placing the trimmed pork cheeks in a bowl, add the wine, cover and refrigerate for 6 hours.

Place a saucepan over medium heat, add the oil and sauté the garlic, carrot and onion until golden. Reduce to low heat.

Remove the pork cheeks from the wine and save the wine for cooking. Dry the pork cheeks with a clean cloth and dust them with flour. Add the cheeks to the casserole and caramelize with the vegetables.

Add the butter, thyme and bay leaves and cook for another three minutes. Pour in the wine and broth and bring to a boil. Skim off any impurities and reduce the heat to simmer.

Add the prunes and place the lid on the dish, cook for another 90 minutes, continuously skimming off the impurities. Check that the cheeks are tender and if not, cook for another 30 minutes.

Taste and season if necessary before serving.


(For 6 persons)

1 liter of whole milk

350g polenta flour

50g unsalted butter

75 g grated parmesan

Sea salt


Olive oil


Start by putting the milk in a saucepan and bring to a boil.

Whisk the polenta until it dissolves and reduce the heat to simmer.

Cook over low heat for 30 minutes and season to taste. If cooked, add butter and Parmesan and whisk until combined.

Season to taste and serve with a drizzle of olive oil on top.

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Rozella J. Cook