I’ve recently taken a bit of a shine to aubergines. I’ve always had terrible trouble cooking them well, ending up with something vaguely slimy and acrid unless I use the slow cooker.
Even then I keep thinking I don’t really like aubergines so don’t bother buying them, but as they are one of the few veg I can currently eat on the fodmap diet, I decided I really needed to find a purpose for an aubergine.
My first attempt didn’t go very well when I left it to the last slightly limp moment and needed to make something for the Brixton Blog and came up with a velvety bean and pomegranate infused soup I couldn’t eat, but which went down very well with other tasters.
For my second attempt I really needed to get to grips with an aubergine and what better way to do that than with pork? Every time I go to Waitrose I try and pick up a few packs of pigs cheeks. They work really well in the slow cooker, take flavour brilliantly and they are extremely good value. What’s not to like?
Sadly my favourite slow cooker recipe for them on page 36 of Slow Cooked for Soy Braised Pigs Cheeks is a blast of garlic I can’t handle anymore so I needed to adapt a bit. I know aubergines love those Chinese flavours so I decided to stick with soy sauce as my base and go from there.
And when I say go from there, I mean rummage round my kitchen making it up as I go along. I used some soy and some Chinese rice wine and a bit of tamarind and brown sugar for the cooking liquor and then added some star anise and the black cardamom pods I’ve had forever but keep forgetting about.
I then forgot I’d unplugged the slow cooker when the cleaner was here a few weeks ago and ended up leaving everything to marinate for a couple of hours until I noticed, but 10 hours when I remembered again, I had soft buttery aubergine and silky strands of succulent pork with little effort.
Slow Cooker Pigs Cheek and Aubergine Stew (serves 4)
- 4 pigs cheeks (approx 250g)
- 1 large aubergine, peeled and diced
- 75ml soy sauce
- 50ml rice wine or vermouth
- 50ml water
- 1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate
- 2 teaspoons brown sugar
- 2 anchovy fillets
- 2 star anise pods
- 3 whole cloves
- 2 black cardamom pods, slightly crushed
- 1 inch fresh ginger, chopped or 1 teaspoon paste
- black pepper
This is ridiculous simple to make. I like to cook the pigs cheek whole and then tease the meat apart at the end with two forks so that it falls into the stew and tangles in with the aubergine for the best texture. This way they also go much further and serve far more people than you’d think on first glance.
Simply place the whole pigs cheeks in the slow cooker crock with the peeled and diced aubergine. Peeling it allows the flesh to collapse down into a lovely sticky finish more easily.
Pour the liquids on top of it all and add the spices and flavourings. It will look like very little liquid but slow cookers need hardly any liquid and the aubergine will add some anyway as it cooks. No one wants a wet aubergine after all.
Put the lid on the slow cooker and cook it all on low for 8-10 hours. Checking you’ve actually turned the thing on is as stressful as this recipe gets.
Once it’s cooked, pull the pig cheeks apart with two forks and mix everything well together. Pick the spice pods out if you see them on the way, especially if serving to kids and eat with something green and leafy on the side and some steamed rice.
I’m definitely an aubergine convert now. Mine had pickled ginger on top of it because I’d run out of any other kind but the warmth of that made me think a bit of chilli heat wouldn’t go amiss here. Otherwise this was an excellent introduction to aubergine for me and I look forward to more tricks with them in the future.