Wild game is the ultimate ‘free range’ meat with more flavor and benefits from a sustainability perspective. Wild boar cheeks are one of my favorite cuts because they are cheap, very flavorful, and easy to prepare sous vide. They have a lot of connective tissue (which you can see in the ingredient photo below) that will melt when cooked for 24 hours at 74C/165F and make the meat flavorful and unctuous. To enhance their flavor even more, I applied an Italian dry rub with herbs and spices often used for wild boar meet in Italian recipes, and smoked the cheeks briefly before cooking them sous vide. By mixing in the juices that are released during sous vide cooking with the pulled meat with only the addition of a bit of red wine, the meat becomes very succulent and flavorful without any need for a sauce. It is great served with a sweet potato puree as shown, or even better with a parsnip puree.
I prefer to smoke before sous-vide, because smoking only briefly (just the outside, the inside will remain raw) will produce enough smoke flavor that will penetrate into the meat while cooking sous-vide. Afterwards you can see that the smoke can even seep through the plastic bag.
For 8 servings
1.8 kilos (4 lbs) wild boar cheeks
1 1/2 Tbsp table salt (34 grams)
3 Tbsp minced fresh sage
3 Tbsp minced fresh rosemary
1 tsp minced bay leaf
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp minced juniper berries
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
smoking dust or chips, I used hickory
125 ml (1/2 cup) red wine
corn starch or arrow root, as needed
Make a dry rub by mixing all the ingredients.
Rub the dry rub all over the meat and…
…refrigerate the meat for 48 hours.
Pat the meat dry with paper towels.
Prepare the smoker with smoking dust or chips.
Put the meat on a rack inside the smoker.
Smoke for 15 minutes, counting from the time you see the first smoke.
The meat will only be smoked on the outside and will still be raw on the inside.
Allow the meat to cool…
…before vacuum sealing.
Cook sous-vide for 24 hours at 74C/165F.
The meat will release a lot of juices during the cook…
…which you should reserve. Pull the meat into flakes using two forks.
Depending on how well the meat was trimmed by the butcher, there may be some larger pieces of connective tissue that can’t be pulled and should be discarded.
Filter the reserved juices through a fine sieve.
Put the juices in a pan and add 125 ml (1/2 cup) red wine.
Bring to a boil and allow to reduce for a bit to get rid of most of the alcohol.
Make a slurry with corn starch or arrow root and cold water and add it to the juices. Stir and cook until the sauce has thickened. If necessary, add more corn starch or arrow root slurry to get a nice thickness.
Add the pulled meat to the sauce.
Stir to coat the pulled meat with the sauce. Turn off the heat before it comes to a boil. You want to make sure the temperature does not exceed the 74C/165F that the meat was cooked at to prevent drying it out.
Served with mashed sweet potatoes or parsnip puree.
This is great with a spicy and smoky full bodied red wine, such as a Rioja (Gran) Reserva, Cannonau di Sardegna, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, or Gigondas.
This onion broth with sheep’s cheese ravioli is very tasty and elegant, yet only uses a few simple ingredients. The sweetness of the onion broth works very well with the hearty cheese.