When I served this dish to about 200 eager feasters at the recent Taboo Eats “My Neighbourhood Bites” competition, I called it “Cheeky Pig in a Puddle”. Pork cheeks are very popular in Europe but less well-known in North America. That’s a pity, because they are tender, tasty morsels that are particularly well-suited to braising, a slow-cooking technique that produces great flavour. Your local butcher shop can order these in for you; in Ottawa, I get them at Saslove’s Meat Market. The spices can be found at natural food stores and the truffle salt is worth looking for – you will realize your life was not complete before you tasted it. While this dish wouldn’t win any beauty contests, I can guarantee it would win the Miss Congeniality Award for its outstanding flavour.
1 cup red wine
1.5 – 2 pounds pork cheeks
approximately ½ cup all-purpose flour, for dredging
2 – 4 tablespoons canola or grapeseed oil
1 onion, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 tablespoon green cardamom pods
½ teaspoon dried thyme
3 bay leaves
3 cups chicken stock
¼ cup red wine
1 tbsp butter
juice of ½ fresh lemon
- Check pork cheeks and trim as needed to remove any excess fat. Place in a sturdy ziplock bag and pour red wine in. Squeeze air out and seal tightly. Refrigerate for 6 – 24 hours, turning occasionally.
- Chop all vegetables and set aside.
- Take meat out of marinade, discarding marinade, and pat dry.
- Preheat the oven to 325F.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large Dutch oven (note: if you don’t have a Dutch oven – basically, a casserole dish that can go on the stovetop – you can start the dish in a large saucepan and then transfer it to your casserole when it’s been assembled so it can braise in the oven.)
- Dredge pork cheeks in flour then sear the meat on medium-high heat till nicely browned. Transfer seared meat to a plate. Do this step in small batches to avoid overcrowding the meat. You may need to add a bit more oil depending upon the quantity of meat.
- Once meat has been seared and removed, add another wee splash of oil to the pan if needed then add the onion, carrots and celery to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are caramelized, about 5 minutes.
- When the veggies are softened and caramelized, stir in the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute. Add the maple syrup, cloves, cardamom, thyme and bay; increase the heat until bubbling. Stir vigorously enough to dislodge any brown bits on the bottom of the pan.
- Return meat to the pan and add just enough chicken stock to just cover the meat. Add the red wine and stir gently.
- Put a tight lid on the pot or cover tightly with foil. Braise in the oven for 2-2 ½ hours until the meat is starting to fall apart. (Note: you can cook this dish for 2 hours, remove from oven and refrigerate, then finish cooking just before serving.)
- Remove the meat from the casserole and keep warm. Strain the sauce in a chinois or sieve, pressing on solids to extract liquid. Discard the solids.
- If sauce is not as thick as you would like, reduce it by boiling on the stovetop till it is about 2/3 the volume and the consistency is thicker. To finish the sauce, stir in 1 tbsp. butter and the lemon juice. Check the seasoning, add salt or pepper if needed.
- Serve the pork cheeks on top of celery root puree. Spoon some sauce over the pork when plating. Put remaining sauce in a jug for the table.
Serves 4 – 6.
Celery Root Puree
Celery root has a lovely flavour that makes a nice change from plain ol’ mashed potatoes. While you may not be able to find it in your local grocery store, a produce specialist will surely have some.
3 cups milk
3 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
1 large celery root
1 medium russet potato
1 small onion, chopped
4 tablespoons butter, cut into 4 pieces
Ground white pepper
Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon Truffle salt
- Peel celery root and potato. Cut into 2” cubes.
- Bring milk, water, and salt just to boil in heavy large saucepan over high heat.
- Add celery root cubes, potato cubes and diced onion; bring to boil again.
- Reduce heat to medium and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 20 – 30 minutes.
- Drain, reserving ½ cup cooking liquid and discarding the rest.
- Using either a stick blender or food processor, combine vegetables and butter and puree until smooth. Add reserved cooking liquid only if needed to make smooth puree (you don’t want it runny). Season to taste with white pepper.
- When serving, sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley and a pinch of truffle salt.
Celery root puree can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Reheat before serving.
Makes 4 – 6 servings.