With the cold winter nights once again upon us, it’s time to focus on some warm, hearty meals to provide sustenance to both body and soul. We kick off with delicious braised pig cheeks served with a rich red wine sauce. This makes use of a tasty, low-cost and often overlooked cut of meat to deliver a fabulous meal for all the family.
Braised Pig Cheeks
|20 mins prep
4-5 hours cook
|Te Kairanga Runholder Pinot Noir|
Sourcing Pig Cheeks
Pig cheeks can be difficult to obtain, as they are a seldom-used cut of meat, which normally means they are low-cost. This is probably because they are very tough, and need a long, slow braising cook to get the most out of them. Done right, they can be delicious. Ask the butcher in your local supermarket or high street. As with many of the other interesting cuts of meat you’ll find in this blog, the pig cheeks came from Turner and George (no commercial connection).
In the method below, I present options for cooking in a conventional kitchen oven and smoker such as a Big Green Egg. I used our Egg to get some smoke flavours into the meat, it turns out just fine in a conventional kitchen though.
- Large casserole dish with lid
- Chopping board
- Sharp knives
- Fat separator
- Small saucepan
- 1 kg pig cheeks
- 2 carrots
- 1 white onion
- 1 small red onion
- 2 celery sticks
- 1 parsnip
- 3-4 smoked garlic cloves
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 strips orange peel
- 75cl Rioja/Tempranillo (see below)
- 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
- Black pepper
- Olive oil
- Plain flour
- Small apple smoking chunk (optional)
This dish has a distinct, rustic flavour and character to it. I’ve found that a Rioja or Old World Tempranillo can accentuate these flavours, lifting the meal and impressing dinner guests.
- Pre-heat the oven or Big Green Egg (indirect setup) to 135°C/275°F. If using an Egg, optionally toss on an apple wood smoking chunk when the coals are glowing and the temperature is stable.
- Finely chop the carrots, parsnips, onions and celery. Crush the garlic gloves.
- Season the pig cheeks with salt and pepper. Heat some olive oil over a medium heat in the casserole dish, then add the pig cheeks and brown them all over. Remove and set aside.
- Add the prepared carrots, parsnips, onions, celery, orange peel strips and garlic to the casserole dish. Cook them until slightly soft.
- Return the pigs cheeks to the casserole dish, mixing them in with the vegetables. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir and cook for 2 mins, then add the thyme sprigs. Add the bay leaves and red wine, then enough water to just cover the contents.
- Put a lid on the casserole dish and place it into the oven or Egg.
- If using an apple smoking chunk in an Egg, leave the lid off for the first hour to get a hint of smoke into the dish. Then return the lid to the casserole dish, adding a little more water and/or red wine if necessary.
- After two hours, taste the sauce and add a pinch more salt and pepper if needed.
- Leave in the oven or Egg until the cheeks are tender, this takes another 2-3 hours.
- Discard the thyme sprigs, bay leaves and orange peel. Strain the gravy through a separator to remove the fat. Heat the gravy in a small pan, using a little plain flour to thicken.
- Serve with mashed potato and cabbage. I prefer savoy cabbage with this dish.
Hints and Tips
- The flavours can be better the following day as they have had time to integrate into the dish. This is especially true when smoking in the Egg.
- Add some chopped smoked bacon into the dish when initially browning the pig cheeks for even more flavour.
- In one incantation of this dish, and this is in some of the photographs are above, I added some quartered new potatoes into the casserole dish. This is purely optional, depends on whether you’re serving with potatoes as a side dish or not.