It’s a fact! You either love pork or you don’t. When you do, it’s an “all in” kind of thing. You love every part and dish that is offered. For today’s recipe, we’re talking about a “cheeky” kind of affection for sure. It is less common, and some might say “it’s out there”. Actually PORK CHEEKS are not really uncommon, and can be found on many of the new and considered trendy menus in some of the finest restaurants. Instead of serving them with the perfunctory pasta or risotto, I like them on a bed of roasted butternut squash. They are slow cooked and melt in your mouth delicious. Yes, today, we are steppin’ out with PORK CHEEKS AND BUTTERNUT SQUASH.
The pork cheek is also referred to as pork jowl. It is not a particularly expensive cut of pork. In fact, it is comparatively cheap. If you can’t find them, ask your butcher. When slowly cooked and flavored well they bring forth the most tender meat and can be served with their sauce over pasta, risotto, mashed potatoes, or almost anything. I particularly like them on a little bed of roasted butternut squash, as you see in the photo. The sauce for this recipe is so rich and delicious. Combined with the rub on the meat, this sauce offers a deep rich taste experience only enhanced by the huge jolt of pork flavor from the cheeks. This is one of those long cooking recipes just made for the slow cooker or crockpot. I suggest 8 hrs on low for this, if that is the way you prefer to go.
Guanciale: You may be familiar with the amazing Guanciale – the renowned unsmoked Italian bacon made from pork cheeks and revered for it’s amazing flavor. The more familiar pancetta is much easier to find and slightly milder. However, when Guanciale is available – this is definitely the way to go for use in the familiar Italian dishes: Pasta All’Amatriciana and Spaghetti Alla Carbonara. It is even named for this cut of pork – coming from the Italian word guancia meaning cheek!
The most satisfying pork cheeks or jowls that I have found come from Circle B Ranch Pork. You can order all the pork you can eat from their website. The PORK CHEEKS used in this demonstration came from this source.
About Circle B Ranch in their words:
“Circle B Ranch – Your Source for Natural Berkshire Pork from the Ozarks
Nestled in the gently rolling hills and woodlands of the southwest Missouri Ozarks, our 90 acre pork farm is conveniently located in the town of Seymour, MO, just 32 miles east of Springfield, MO.
Circle B Ranch provides a safe, all-natural home to breed, farrow and raise 100% Heritage Pork which includes Berkshire/Kurabota and Red Wattle. Our hog farm is run naturally, sustainably and humanely.”
About Circle B Ranch Pork in my words: This pork is by far the best quality I have ever tasted and cooked with. I have tried several of their cuts, and they do not disappoint. The meat is fresh, full of flavor, and gives me some peace of mind about the way the animals are raised. This is important for our own consumption when you read more and more about the antibiotics and hormones that are fed to the animals in our meat supply. In addition, I just like the idea of critters running freely to graze about in the pastures and woods as they were meant to rather than having a life of confinement.
Marina and John Backes, owners of Circle B Ranch, know all about this and are committed to the idea that the way animals live, eat, and are raised has a great effect on the quality and appearance of their meat.
The end result is most tender flavorful meat that more than satisfies the palate.
PORK CHEEKS WITH ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH
Prep: 15-20 minutes
Refrig: 2 hours
Cook: 2 1/2-3 Hours
Generous Pinch of Cayenne pepper
3 Tbsp. Brown Sugar
2 Pork Cheeks ( about 2 lb. ea.) trimmed of the extra thick fat layer
3 Tbsp. Olive Oil
8 baby Carrots chopped
1 Stalk Celery chopped
1 Whole Onion chopped
3 Cloves fresh garlic
3 c. Red Wine
3 c. Beef Broth
2 Bay Leaves
4 Sprigs of Fresh Thyme
1 Tbsp. fresh Tarragon – chopped
2 Tbsp. Fresh Marjoram Leaves – chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Large Fresh Butternut Squash, peeled and chopped
Cut the thick fat layer off the pork cheeks with a sharp knife or ask your butcher to do it. Discard the fat layer. (See fat layer on left in photo)
Make a rub of: a pinch of Cayenne Pepper, 2 Tbsp. Brown Sugar, Salt and Black Pepper. Mix and rub all over the pork cheeks. Refrigerate the cheeks for 2 hours.
Brown the cheeks in the olive oil on both sides. Remove from the pot and set aside.
In the same pot, cook the chopped vegetables a few minutes to get started. (If using a slow cooker, now is the time to transfer the vegetables to it and proceed with the following instructions from there – Low and slow for about 8 hours)
Add the meat back to the pan on top of the vegetables.
Add the wine, stock, and herbs to the pot. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Cover and cook 2 1/2-3 hours on top of the stove until “falling apart tender”. At the 1 1/2 hour mark turn the cheeks over. During the cooking process, if you find you need more liquid, add more broth.
When finished, remove the Bay Leaves and Thyme sprigs.
Depending on your taste, you can serve them whole or remove the little meaty medallions and perch them on a bed of whatever you choose like they do in the restaurants. (See first photo) You can also slice them and serve them that way. See here:
If serving with Butternut Squash, toss the chopped squash with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast at 400 degrees about 30 minutes or more until it reaches desired tenderness.
Prepare to dine on the most tender and possibly the most divinely flavorful meat you have ever tasted! It’s time to go for that beautiful Barbaresco you have wanted to try. Yes indeed – it is!
PARLA COME MANGI!
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Food Photos By Tommy Hanks Photography