Guinness stout is a famous old drink, the Guinness Storehouse in Dublin is Ireland’s most visited tourist trap, and they say a pint of plain is your only man. But you can also use Guinness as an ingredient in making everything from chocolate cake or ginger cake to wheat bread and a wide variety of meat stews…
While the meat in the stew is typically beef or lamb – and the cut usually shoulder or braising steak – how about a Guinness stew with pork cheek? It’s a superb cut of meat, hard to come across at the butcher’s counter in Ireland nowadays yet highly prized on the Continent.
(An inevitable grammar aside: is it “pig’s cheek”, “pig’s cheeks” or “pigs’ cheeks”? I’d go for “cheek” in the singular if it’s meant in the generic sense, so “pig’s cheek”. But as I’m cooking for several people here, most of the rest of this piece will refer to plural objects, “cheeks”. I will also assume that these are sourced from “pigs”, again plural. Unless, of course, you’ve happened upon a little piggy with more than two ears.)
If you can’t find some pigs’ cheeks, you could try diced shoulder of pork instead. If so, it’s probably best to follow the cooking steps and methods of a traditional beef daube, marinating the meat in the Guinness overnight (or in red wine, as in the cooking scene on page 126 of my novel Ghost Flight).
But a pig’s cheek is relatively lean, so let’s skip the marinade method entirely. This will also cut down on the prep-to-plate timescale, but do try to cook the stew a day in advance anyway, refrigerating it then reheating it the next day. The flavours will have improved immensely.
You could treat the whole thing as a “one-pot wonder”, everything done in the same heavy pot on the hob. Alternatively, use a frying pan for browning everything, followed by a slow cook in a roasting tin in the oven. But there is a third way, the best of all: the combination of a frying pan and the sturdy crock of a slow cooker.
Pigs’ cheeks in Guinness recipe
The ingredients, for about four people:
- Olive oil, plain not extra virgin
- 6-8 pigs’ cheeks (about 2 per person)
- 2 slices of streaky bacon (or lardons)
- 2 onions
- 1 celery stick
- 2-3 carrots
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
- 2 bay leaves
- 1-2 sprigs of thyme
- Peel from half an orange (optional)
- About 8 prunes, stoned and roughly chopped (optional)
- Plain white flour, about a heaped tablespoon, for thickening
- About 500 ml of Guinness, usually about 500 ml
- About 400 ml of chicken or beef stock
- Sea salt
- Black pepper
You don’t have to use a can or bottle of Guinness – a Murphys or Beamish will work just as well, and there are plenty of Irish craft beers out there to try nowadays, from O’Hara’s Leann Foalláin stout from Carlow, to Brú Dubh from Trim in County Meath.
Cut the pork cheeks into large bite-size chunks. Dice the streaky bacon. Roughly chop the onions, celery and carrot. Thinly slice the garlic.
Heat a glug of olive oil in the frying pan. Brown the meat chunks in batches – if you overcrowd the pan the temperature will fall too much and they will steam rather than becoming seared – and set them aside.
To the same pan add a little more oil if necessary, lightly fry the bacon/lardons for a minute, add the chopped vegetables, and cook gently for another two minutes. Add the tomato paste, and cook for a further minute.
Put all the meat and veg into your slow-cooker crock (or the oven roasting tin or the pot on the hob if you’re using one of these instead), plus the thyme, bay and (again, if using) the orange peel and prunes.
Sprinkle the flour on the frying pan. Using a wooden spoon, slowly stir in the Guinness, deglazing the pan and breaking down any flour lumps. Add the chicken stock too, until it is all warmed up. Add this liquid to the crock too.
(Some stews don’t use flour as a thickener. Instead, you could skip the flour stage of that last paragraph, but add some chunks of peeled potato to the pot. If you do this, use a “floury” variety of spud rather than “waxy”.)
Simmer everything on a low heat for several hours – or the “Low” setting of your slow cooker – until the meat is beginning to fall apart. You should end up with a thick gluggy gravy; but if it still needs to be thickened, either reduce the liquid by turning up the heat and leaving the lid off, or simply add some of my favourite stew thickener, potato flour (aka potato starch – available in Asian stores). First slake a heaped teaspoon potato flour with about the same amount of cold water, then stir it quickly into the stew.
Taste, season with salt and black pepper, remove the orange peel (if using, and if you can still find it), garnish with chopped parsley. Serve with crusty white bread or creamy mashed spuds or creamed parsnip. And a pint of stout, perhaps.
There are many variations on this recipe, at least in the beef and lamb version. Chopped mushrooms are a good addition, or a handful of frozen peas chucked in four minutes before serving. Or add some chunks of parsnip; they will act like the prunes, giving a sweet counterbalance to the slightly bitter, burnt edge of the Guinness.
Guinness as a flavouring
Guinness has a long history as a flavouring. So too did the yeast extract by-product of its fermentation process, but only for a brief time.
This Marmite-like paste was marketed in Ireland from 1936 as GYE, or Guinness Yeast Extract, and was used for soups, stews and broths. Oh, and as a sandwich spread. By 1950 the processing plant was churning out 12 tons of it per week. The line was discontinued in 1968.
GYE never reached the British market due to patent restrictions, although there was a very brief revival of sorts: in 2007 Marmite produced a limited edition of 300,000 250g jars of “Guinness Marmite”, a yeast extract with 30% Guinness yeast.
I’ve never had either GYE or this one-off Guinness Marmite. Perhaps someone can fill me in on the main taste difference to standard Marmite or apparently similar stuff such as Vegemite from Australia.