We spent most of our trip to Portugal on the coast and so had lots of fish and seafood. When we did have meat, stewed pork cheeks were often on the menu. They were often iberico pork, referred to as porco preto in Portugal. The nicest pork cheeks I had during the trip were at a small restaurant called O Emigrante in Évora Monte, in the hot and dry inland region of Alentejo. I really liked the flavors that were used with the pork cheeks: bay leaf, lemon rind, onion, garlic, and tomato, and they were served with runner beans. Pork cheeks are called bochechas de porco in Portuguese, but at this restaurant they were called queixadas de porco preto no forno. “No forno” refers to the preparation in the oven.
Iberico pork cheeks are hard to find here, and so I used wild boar cheeks instead. Use iberico pork cheeks by all means if you can find them, but regular pork cheeks will also do. The recipe below was inspired by my meal in Évora Monte, but it is my own creation. As usual I chose to prepare them sous vide, but you could also cook them in the oven.
Cooking them sous vide ensured that they came out very tender and juicy.
The best part of this recipe is the jus, which was absolutely delicious.
For 4 servings
4 pork cheeks of about 150 grams (6 oz) each (my wild boar cheeks were so large that I cut them in half)
4 bay leaves, preferably fresh
4 garlic cloves, sliced
4 strips of lemon rind
1 onion, sliced
1 ripe tomato
250 ml (1 cup) red wine
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
4 Tbsp olive oil
500 grams (1.1 lbs) runner beans, for serving
Season the pork cheeks with 1 teaspoon of table salt and 1 teaspoon of sweet smoked paprika.
Cover and refrigerate them for at least an hour, to allow the salt to penetrate into the meat.
In the meantime, bring some water to a boil, cut a cross in the skin of the tomato, and parboil the tomato…
…until the skin breaks, about 20 seconds. As soon as that happens, transfer the tomato to cold water to stop the cooking process.
Remove the skin and seeds of the tomato and discard. Dice the tomato flesh (the French call this concassé de tomates).
Slice the onion. Slice the garlic. Cut the lemon rind strips and bay leaves in half.
After at least an hour, take the pork cheeks out of the refrigerator and pat them dry with paper towels.
Heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan and brown the pork cheeks on all sides over medium-high heat.
Transfer the pork cheeks to a plate to cool off as soon as they have been nicely browned all over. Do not clean the pan.
Add the onion to the drippings in the pan. Stir over medium heat until the onions are soft, about 10 minutes.
Add the sliced garlic and stir for another minute.
Add the tomato and bay leaf and stir for another minute.
Add the red wine.
(To cook the pork cheeks in the oven instead of sous vide, immediately after adding the red wine, put the pork cheeks in an oven dish with the sauce, and cook for 2 to 3 hours at 160C/325F, turning and basting the pork cheeks with the sauce regularly.)
Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a nice simmer.
Simmer until reduced by half, then turn off the heat.
Vacuum seal the meat with the sauce and the lemon rind. There are three options for this:
- Allow sauce and meat to cool completely in the refrigerator, then use a chamber vacuum sealer.
- Use a ziploc bag and the water displacement method (no chilling required).
- Freeze the sauce and vacuum seal the sauce with the meat using an external vacuum sealer such as a FoodSaver.
When vacuum sealing the meat with the sauce, try to distribute the bay leaves and lemon rind such that each pork cheek is covered by one of each on each side.
Cook the pork cheeks sous vide for 24 hours at 74C/165F.
After those 24 hours, put the liquid into a saucepan. (I used a sieve, but you could also just cut a corner off the bag and pour the liquid out of the bag.)
Bring this liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat and allow to simmer for a bit to reduce the jus. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper after you’ve finished reducing the sauce (as reducing the jus will make it more salty).
Return the pork cheeks to the jus and baste them with the sauce to warm them back up. Discard the bay leaves and lemon rind.
Serve the pork cheeks with the runner beans, the jus, and the onions/garlic.
This is nice with a velvety full bodied red wine, preferably a Touriga Nacional from Portugal, but a nice Rioja (Gran) Reserva would also do splendidly.
This vegetarian pasta dish with carrots and almonds is wonderful for this time of the year.