It’s time for floury white baps on #shortandtweet, and – with aromas of star anise, liquorice, and chilli ringing in my nostrils from a flurry of Chinese cooking in the house over the past week – I could think few better ways to enjoy them than with some slow braised pig cheeks.

All week, I have wanted to head into Chinatown for some wonderful baked goods.  Perhaps it’s the weather, perhaps it’s the talk of everyone dieting, but I’ve been dreaming of bakery-fresh char-sui buns.  These are not they, but a truly excellent alternative.  The way of cooking the pig cheeks was inspired by Fuschia Dunlop’s recipe for steamed pork in her “Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook”.  Fuschia is my go to person on all matters Sichuan, and many others.  Her books are beautifully written, full of history, culture, and – most of all – descriptions of a life-enhancing passion for food.

You’ll notice that I’m pretty relaxed about cooking timings and proportions.  If you don’t have much time to cook the pork, just cook it for less time, taking the cheeks out when first tender.  If you don’t have all the spices, add what you do have.  The cheeks may still be pretty tasty with Tate & Lyle, some sherry, a little soy sauce, chilli, and a few sticks of cinnamon.  Different, but definitely still tasty!  Free range pig cheeks are an absolute steal from my local Waitrose at the moment.

Recipe: Hunanese-style braised pig cheeks
Serves 2-3 in a bun

500g pork cheeks, or 6-8 cheeks (trim off any slivers of bone, but otherwise leave  intact)
1.5″ ginger, unpeeled, cut into pieces
1 scotch bonnet chilli, diced (include the seeds)
1tbsp assorted spice (including fennel, liquorice root, cassia bark, star anise, cao guo, cloves)
1tbsp light soy sauce (for saltiness)
0.5tbsp dark soy sauce (for colour and sweetness)
4tbsp shaoxing wine
50g rock sugar, crushed in a pestle & mortar

1. Place all ingredients into a zip lock bag and leave to marinate in the fridge for anything from none to many hours.  Tell them who’s boss; just take them out when you’re ready.
2. Heat oven to 120° C.  Tip cheeks and marinade into an oven proof dish with a lid (e.g. le creuset), and top up with enough water to cover.  Put the lid on, and cook in the oven until the cheeks break apart – they should be good after 1.5 hours, but even better after 4 hours.

3. When you are nearly ready to  eat, remove the pork cheeks from the oven dish with a slotted spoon, and strain the sauce through a sieve into another pan.  Reduce the strained sauce on the hob, by about 3/4 until it’s still runny but looks thicker.  It won’t look sticky, but on tasting, the unctuous gelatin will coat the inside of your mouth.
4. Place the pork cheeks back in the pan with the sauce, and stir to break them up a little, and warm them through
5. Serve in one of the baps below, with rinsed and boiled sour mustard greens, or another mild green pickle

Soft white baps
Dan Lepard’s recipe is published in the guardian here. I made a few changes to the recipe to suit my store cupboard and mood, which still resulted in a soft floury bap.

– Used 24g of fresh yeast (going by traditional bakers’ percentage – 3% fresh yeast to 100% flour by weight);
– Half the flour used was ’00’, as I’d run out of strong white (on the shopping list for the morning);
– Used skimmed milk. Thought about topping up the fat with extra butter, or use more milk and less water, but in the end I just left it;
– And finally, I was feeling somewhat baked-out from cooking other things all day, so – very rarely for me – I couldn’t face touching the very wet and sticky dough, and threw the lot in a kitchenaid to knead for 7 minutes, instead of kneading it by hand as instructed.  I wish I’d added a little extra flour before the kneading (around 3tbsp).  Do not do as I did, and add additional flour it after: you will be squishing out lumps as you do the final shaping!

And… I can’t resist a final close up!