Thursday, November 23, 2017

Limburgian Pork Cheeks

A piece of meat that is almost forgotten but that is arguably one of the most flavorful pork cuts there is: cheeks. It stands to reason, for tender meat that only needs very short cooking, we use muscles that the animal rarely uses such as loins and fillets. But these meats, though delicate and lean, are not very well suited for long cooking methods, e.g. when we want to cook them together with vegetables or make a nice sauce. For that we use tougher muscles that have more fat and connective tissues. These will break down during long and slow braising, resulting in succulent, tender and awesomely flavorful meat. As an added bonus, the collagen in the meat will melt and turn into gelatine that will not only keep the meat moist but that will also give us a wonderfully silky, sticky sauce. In conclusion: what muscles does a pig use most? Correct - the muscles used for eating: cheeks. If prepared the right way, pork cheeks will give other cuts like neck or shoulder a run for their money!

This recipe is a variation on many of the stews and braised dishes that include pork cheeks and other tougher cuts from the pig. The addition of Bock beer, a strong, dark type of lager from our region lends a sweet and slightly bitter note that makes this a truly stunning stew.

Ingredients (serves 4 persons)

2 kg pork cheeks
150 gr unsalted butter
2 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, finely diced
2 tbsp all purpose flour
2 cloves of garlic, whole, peeled
1 bouquet garni (thyme, rosemary, bay leaf)
2 slices white bread
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 bottle (30cl) Bock beer
1/2 liter of beef stock or 1/4 ltr of beef glace
Pepper and salt

Carefully remove the silver skin from the cheeks using a thin, sharp knife.

In a large casserole over high heat, melt half of the butter in 2 tablespoons of olive oil.

Brown the meat in small batches until nicely caramelized and reserve.

Remove all the fat form the pan but make sure to leave the brown bits sticking to the bottom of the pan (fond). Lower to medium high heat and add rest of the butter and the diced onions. Slowly sweat the onions with a big pinch of salt. This will cause the onions to release their moisture, which will help deglaze the pan.

Make sure all fond has released from the bottom.

Add the cheeks back to the pan, but keep the jus that has accumulated at the bottom aside.

Add the flour to the meat and stir, making sure everything is covered.

Add beer and deglaze the bottom of the pan again. Now add garlic, bouquet garni and reserved jus back into the pan.

Cover the slices of bread generously with a high quality, sharp mustard e.g. Dijon. We did not remove the crusts from the bread, but you should. It will help the bread to dissolve into the sauce quicker.

Add the beef fond and bring the stew to a gentle simmer. Do not bring to a boil! This will toughen the fibers in the meat and you'll need a much longer cooking time.

Simmer gently for 90 minutes or until the meat is fork tender. Remove bouquet garni and garlic cloves. Stir carefully to make sure the bread dissolves completely and perfectly binds the sauce.

Serve gourmet style, over mashed potatoes with some butter-braised spring onions and micro greens...

... or family style as shredded pork on a freshly toasted brioche bun. No ketchup needed!

Wine suggestion:

In The Netherlands and Belgium, pork cheeks, other meats, fish, poultry and much more can be purchased online at

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