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.
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.
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
(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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.