After spending far too much money recently my bank balance is not looking all that healthy! So in an attempt to budget I set out to cook the cheapest meal I could without cutting down on the quality.
The answer revealed itself while I was wandering around Leicester Fish market (which also has several butchers), when I laid my eyes upon some Pork Hocks for the bargain price of 99p! I have cooked with these before and have been pleasantly surprised, not only by how much meat is on them but by how tender and succulent it is. This piece of meat is often used for soups and stocks but I have found their to be plenty of meat for three of us.
The hock is a cut taken from just above the trotter and below the shoulder. Like most of the cheap cuts of meat it requires long slow cooking. It is ideal for stews and casseroles as it adds beautiful richness and depth of flavour. with that in mind I set about making a Spanish style casserole.
In Spain white beans are a very common ingredient, they are especially good with pork too as in the Spanish dish of Fabada Asturiana. So for my casserole I used tinned butter beans which are delicious and creamy and make an excellent addition to meals such as this, they also help to make the meal more substantial.
The real Spanish twist comes in the form of smoked paprika or Pimenton. This spice is amazing, it is available in sweet or hot varieties, has a wonderful smoky flavour as well as adding fantastic colour. It is a traditional Spanish ingredient made my smoking and drying peppers, these are then ground to create the spice. I used the sweet variety rather than the hot, as I wasn't looking for any heat in my dish.
It is recommended that you blanch pork hocks before cooking them, this just removes impurities and results in a better looking and tasting end result. To do this simply boil your hock in a large pan of water for a couple of minutes, pour the water away and you're ready to go...
One of the great things about this kind of cooking is that it allows you to use up whatever you have to hand For my casserole I used finely chopped red onions and celery and a roughly chopped red bell pepper fried in olive oil as a base. Red onions are good for this as the add colour and sweetness, as does the pepper. towards the end of cooking I added my smoked paprika and a teaspoon of dried thyme. Then the hock and around two large mugs of water, a splash of white wine and a spoon of honey.
Everything was mixed together in a large casserole pan and into the oven at gas 1, and left for around 6 hours, around half and hour before serving i added some carrots. I don't add these at the beginning as the become far too mushy and lose texture.
The final result was meat that just fell apart, I didn't even need a knife! The casserole was rich and fragrant and a fantastic red colour. It was a great success and cost about £2 to feed three of us.
Tomato and herb bread
Normally when I make a stew or casserole I would add something starchy like potatoes, this time however to go with my Spanish theme I made tomato and herb bread. I don't have a recipe as i was using what I had to hand again. I found half a jar of tomato pesto, some spring onions, sun dried tomatoes and dried basil and oregano. I added them to a basic white bread dough and this is the result...