Wild Boar Cheeks Sous-Vide (Ganacini di Cinghiale)

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The more muscles work during the life of an animal, the more flavor the meat will have and the tougher the meat will be. The muscles in the cheeks are used for chewing food, and so it’s not hard to imagine that cheeks are one of the most flavorful and least tender cuts around. With sous-vide cooking we can make this meat tender while maintaining its flavor and succulence, thus creating a wonderful dish. In this case I used wild boar cheeks, but you could also make this with pig cheeks. Please note that the term ‘cheek’ is used loosely, other parts of meat from around the jaws are very similar and can be prepared the same way.

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In the photo you can see how pink the meat still was after 72 hours at 62ºC/144ºF. Pork cheeks would only require 48 hours at 57ºC/135°F.

If you don’t have sous-vide, you could braise the cheeks the old-fashioned way. But whatever you do, use this recipe for the sauce. It was based upon a recipe for pig cheeks on Grembiule da Cucina, the wonderful blog of my Italian blogging friend Simona. She prepared pig cheeks, ganacini, in the way her aunt Carla used to prepare them for Christmas Eve. The nutmeg and cloves give the sauce a wonderful flavor that works very well with the meat. Serve it with polenta or mashed potatoes Italian-style. In Italy, mashed potatoes are prepared with milk and butter as usual, but then flavored with parmigiano and a dash of nutmeg for additional flavor.

Ingredients

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For 2 servings

300 grams (.66 lb) wild boar cheeks (or pig cheeks)

250 ml (1 cup) meat stock, preferably wild boar stock

125 ml (1/2 cup) red wine (Simona uses Lambrusco Salamino for the pig cheeks, for wild boar you could use something with more body)

50 grams carrots, chopped (1/2 cup)

50 grams onions, chopped (1/2 cup)

50 grams celery, chopped (1/2 cup)

1 clove garlic, minced

1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

1/8 tsp ground cloves

salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Preparation

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Wash and dry the cheeks and trim away any glands or other ‘bad’ parts if your butcher hasn’t done so already. Season them on all sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

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Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over high heat and brown the cheeks in the hot oil on all sides. Take them out of the pan and allow to cool to room temperature.

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Add the carrot, celery, and onion to the oil and stir over medium heat until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes.

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Add the garlic and stir for another minute.

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Deglaze with the red wine.

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Stir with a wooden spatula until the wine has reduced by half, picking up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

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Add the stock.

(If not cooking sous-vide, return the cheeks to the pan at this point, partially cover the pan, and braise the cheeks over very low heat until they are tender, turning them regularly. This will take at least two hours.)

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Reduce over medium heat until the sauce has been reduced by half and has a full flavor, about 10 minutes. Stir in the nutmeg and cloves. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

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When using a chamber vacuum sealer, allow meat and sauce to cool to room temperature before vacuum sealing (as otherwise the sauce and juices in the meat will boil at the low pressure).

Otherwise, use the water displacement method to seal the meat with the sauce in a ziploc bag.

Cook wild boar cheeks sous-vide for 72 hours at 62ºC/144ºF, or pig cheeks for 48 hours at 57ºC/135ºF.

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After cooking sous-vide, put the sauce in a pan and reduce over medium heat for a couple of minutes.

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Then use an immersion blender to make the sauce smooth. The vegetables will thicken the sauce in a very nice way.

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Return the cheeks to the sauce and warm them through for a couple of minutes.

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Serve the cheeks with the sauce on preheated plates with mashed potatoes or polenta and vegetables; in this case I used roasted green asparagus.

Wine pairing

For pork cheeks a light red such as the Lambrusco Salamino would be great. For wild boar however, a red Italian riserva would be great.

Flashback

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Two years ago there was a big scandal in Europe about horse meat. Not because there is anything wrong with horse meat by itself — on the contrary, it is both delicious and healthy — but because horse meat was being sold as beef. Braciole alla Barese are thin slices of horse or beef, rolled up with parsley, garlic, cheese, or other ingredients, and then braised in a tomato sauce.

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13 thoughts on “Wild Boar Cheeks Sous-Vide (Ganacini di Cinghiale)

  1. With no disrespect to your cheeks 🙂 I am very interested in the sous vide technique. Browning first, including a mirepoix in the bag – and then turning it all into a sauce at the end.

    I would like to try this with meat that needs shorter cooking times. Is there anything about this technique that would require adjustment for say a 12 hour or less sous vide time?

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    1. I have noticed that at low cooking temperatures it takes longer for a sauce/marinade to penetrate into the meat. With cooking times of 2-4 hours (e.g. chicken or rabbit) this means that the meat ends up as if the sauce was added later rather than that the meat takes over some of the flavor of the sauce. So that probably means not cooking much less than 12 hours and using a thinner piece of meat (not too thin though, or it would overcook in the browning stage). I just made lamb shanks in the same way as the cheeks (browned, with sauce in the bag, 2 days at 62C, https://stefangourmet.com/2014/04/21/lamb-shank-and-asparagus-sous-vide/) and they are out of this world.

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