My partner Ken’s massage therapist is right across the street from one of L.A.‘s great butcher shops, McCall’s Meat and Fish Co. So he’ll often come home (freshly tenderized himself) with a paper-wrapped bundle of meaty intrigue. Sure they have great lamb chops and all the expected beastial staples, but we go there to find more unusual cuts. McCall’s is also one of those uniquely Los Angeles experiences that’s hard to explain to anyone who doesn’t live here. You see it’s something of a celebrity magnet, but people don’t go there to gawk at celebrities they go there to pretend they don’t recognize celebrities. “Such a pretty girl”, the man in front of you might say of the liver-loving Oscar winner in front of him. So it was that Ken came home with a big bag of pork cheeks (oink-oink) and celebrity gossip (wink-wink).
Soy and Vinegar Braised Pork Cheeks
Yep, they’re exactly what you think they are… the pork cheeks I mean.
Unctuous and tender, pork cheeks are less popular than they used to be but I don’t know why. Pork cheeks – cooked low and slow nestled amongst the umami notes of soy sauce and sharp hints of cider vinegar – are meltingly tender and completely delicious. They are also quite affordable (even at McCall’s). Read the recipe and make plenty of time for cooking. I wouldn’t attempt to hurry this one. If time is an issue, go for a pork chop like the “you know who” rock star I like to pretend I don’t see standing right in front of me. GREG
Serving suggestion: Serve with sweet potatoes and simple, but flavorful sauteed greens such as mustard or turnip. Other ideas include rice, mashed potatoes, and toast. You’ll want something to soak up the flavorful sauce.
- 4 tablespoon olive oil (divided)
- 1 large onion (peeled, halved, and thinly sliced)
- 1 ½ pound pork cheeks (at room temperature, trimmed, about 8 cheeks)
- salt and pepper (as needed for seasoning)
- 6 clove garlic (peeled and chopped)
- 1 tablespoon chile paste (such as sambal olek)
- 2 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon ground allspice
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ cup soy sauce
- ½ cup rice vinegar
- 1–2 cup vegetable broth (depending on pot)
- 2–3 large freshly baked sweet potatoes (hot from the oven halved and fork fluffed, optional)
- parsley leaves (as garnish)
Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 300°F.
Warm 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large, deep pot with a lid set over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened and just beginning to color, about 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the onions to a plate and set aside. Add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil to the pan and raise the heat to medium-high.
Rinse the pork cheeks and dry them well with a paper towel then season them generously with salt and pepper. Working in batches if necessary place them in the pot in a single layer and cook until browned on both sides, about 4 minutes per side. Remove with tongs and set aside.
Once all the pork cheeks are browned add garlic, chile paste, brown sugar, cumin, paprika, allspice, and cinnamon to the hot fat left in the pot; stir until fragrant. Pour in soy sauce and vinegar using a wooden spoon to scrape the bottom of the pot. Return the pork cheeks and onions to the pot and add the vegetable broth. It should cover the pork cheeks by about two-thirds, if not add a splash or two more vegetable broth or water. Cover the pot with a tight-fitting lid. Transfer to the heated oven and cook until very tender, about 2 ½ hours.
Remove the pot from the oven, uncover and use a slotted spoon to gently move the pork cheeks to a plate. Reduce the cooking liquid in the pot over medium heat until slightly thickened and velvety, about 8 to10 minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Return the pork cheeks to the pot and de-fat the mixture, either by skimming off the liquid fat or refrigerating the meat in the pot and letting the fat solidify on the top.
To serve gently reheat the pork cheeks in the reduced sauce over medium heat. Serve warm, spooned over baked sweet potatoes halves (optional). Garnish with parsley leaves.
I love your blog especially around the holidays and was sad to feel that the cultural context of this dish was just kind of swept under the rug.
I see pork cheeks on the menu at some restaurants, but rarely at most butcher stores. Although there’s one store that always has them — the butcher still buys whole hogs and butchers them, so of course he’ll have the cheeks, too. Beef cheeks, though, I see fairly often. These sound better, though — neat recipe. Thanks.
You Californians! My cousin grew up in LA and must have known all the stars from the sound of it. We constantly teased her but in secret we loved to listen. Do tell! Bet these pork cheeks would have them asking for the recipe!
I want to eat this. Not sure if I’ll be able to source pork cheeks but I’ll give it a go. If I do it might be a good chance to try to make guanciale, too.