Porkalicious meat scallops… That’s what is hiding away in the cheek cavity of that delicious swine. Those circular, meltingly tender pieces of meat know as pork cheeks are so often forgotten, especially in the case of hunted, wild game. As if skinning the entire animal wasn’t enough, now you are forced to skin the head as well, but the buried treasure that lies beneath that course skin is worth every minute of knife work. Now… you do have other options, mainly find a butcher store that carries pig cheeks. That being said, they won’t be wild boar cheeks; and there is a big difference. Commercial pigs that you find in your typical grocery store are anything but lean. They are overly fatty. And yes, I know, fat is flavor, blah blah blah. But the texture of fat is not necessarily an enjoyable eating experience (there are always exceptions). And store bought pig cheeks, when braised, tend to come across a bit greasy. Enter the wild hog: an active animal with a diet consisting of a lot of acorns, as all natural as they come, the epitome of organic and cage free and yet, still with a decent layer of fat and flavor. Impossible to compare to anything you’ll find saran wrapped in a grocery store.
This recipe is as simple as can be. Patience is the key… and finding wild pig cheeks.
- 4 pig cheeks (wild is preferred)
- 1 large onion, quartered
- 4 garlic cloves
- 3 sticks of celery
- 2 carrots
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds
- 2 cups of chicken stock
- 1 bottle of red wine (I used a syrah)
- 1 teaspoon French Seasoning (thyme, rosemary, basil, sage, crushed fennel, lavender)
- olive oil, salt and pepper
- Rinse and dry pork cheeks. Let them reach room temperature. Season with salt, pepper, fennel and French seasoning.
- In a dutch oven or pot, heat olive oil to almost smoking over medium high heat. Seat pork cheeks until brown on both sides. Remove from pot and set aside on plate.
- Add your mirepoix (carrots, onions, celery and garlic). Cook for 5-7 minutes until vegetables are caramelized and soft. Season the vegetables with salt and pepper. Add bay leaf and red wine and reduce to half.
- Heat oven to 350F. When wine is reduced, put pork cheeks, fat side up in the pot and submerge most of the way in the liquid. If you need more liquid, add some chicken broth until they are almost covered. Cover the pot and palce in the oven for 3 hours until they are fall apart tender.
- Remove pot from oven and remove the cheeks from the pot. Place on a plate. Put pot back on stove uncovered and boil wine sauce until reduced to 1/3. Add a bit of butter at the end if you’d like.
- While sauce is reducing, place pork cheeks under the broiler for a minute to crisp up. Plate and serve with your favorite sides. Sauteed collard greens with pancetta works well.