Pork cheeks may not be the first cut of meat that comes to mind when you think of pork, but they are a hidden gem that should not be overlooked.
These little nuggets of flesh found in the cheek of the pig are marbled with fat, making them tender and flavorful when slow cooked. But are pork cheeks fatty? Many people assume so, but the truth may surprise you.
In this article, we’ll explore the world of pork cheeks and discover why they’re worth adding to your culinary repertoire. So sit back, relax, and get ready to learn all about this delicious and underappreciated cut of meat.
Are Pork Cheeks Fatty?
Contrary to popular belief, pork cheeks are not as fatty as you might think. While they do contain some fat, it is the marbling of fat that gives them their tenderness and flavor when slow cooked.
Compared to other cuts of pork, such as bacon or pork belly, pork cheeks are relatively lean. They are also a good source of protein and essential nutrients like iron and zinc.
When cooked properly, the fat in pork cheeks will melt away, leaving behind tender and juicy meat that is full of flavor. This makes them a great option for stews, casseroles, and braises.
What Are Pork Cheeks?
Pork cheeks are small pieces of meat found in the cheek of a pig. They are often overlooked and underused, but they are a cheap and delicious cut of meat that can add flavor and tenderness to any dish. Pork cheeks are marbled with fat, which gives them their melt-in-the-mouth texture when slow cooked. They are different from jowls, which are the surrounding area of the face and contain more fat than meat. Pork cheeks are relatively lean compared to other cuts of pork, but they still contain enough fat to make them tender and flavorful when cooked properly. Due to their underuse, pork cheeks may need to be ordered from a butcher specifically. When purchasing pork cheeks, it’s important to note that they shrink quite a bit during cooking, so 2-3 per person is a good portion size for a main dish. Overall, pork cheeks are a delicious and underrated cut of meat that can add depth and richness to any recipe.
Nutritional Value Of Pork Cheeks
Pork cheeks are a great source of protein, with 21 grams of protein per 100 grams of meat. They are also relatively low in fat, with only 5 grams of fat per 100 grams of meat. In fact, the fat in pork cheeks is mostly unsaturated, which means it can actually be good for your heart health when consumed in moderation.
Pork cheeks are also a good source of essential nutrients like iron and zinc. Iron is important for healthy blood flow and energy production, while zinc plays a key role in immune function and wound healing.
In terms of calories, pork cheeks are relatively low, with only 130.8 calories per 100 grams of meat. This makes them a great option for those looking to maintain a healthy weight or reduce their calorie intake.
The Fat Content Of Pork Cheeks
Pork cheeks contain approximately 5 grams of fat per 100 grams, with no carbohydrates or fiber. This makes them a relatively low-fat option compared to other cuts of pork.
It is important to note that the fat in pork cheeks is not evenly distributed throughout the meat. Instead, it is marbled throughout the muscle fibers, which contributes to its tenderness and flavor when cooked.
When slow cooked, the fat in pork cheeks will melt and infuse the meat with flavor, resulting in a rich and satisfying dish. However, if you are looking to reduce your fat intake, it is possible to trim some of the excess fat before cooking.
Cooking Pork Cheeks
Cooking pork cheeks requires a slow and gentle approach to ensure they are tender and flavorful. The first step is to prepare the meat by trimming any sinew and dusting it with flour. This will help to brown the meat and create a flavorful crust.
To maximize the flavor, sear the pork cheeks in a frying pan until they are golden brown on all sides. This will create a rich flavor base for your dish. Once seared, transfer the pork cheeks to an ovenproof casserole dish.
Next, you’ll want to prepare your vegetables and aromatics. A classic mirepoix of onion, carrot, and celery is a great place to start, but you can also experiment with other flavors like leeks, garlic, or fennel.
Add your vegetables to the same frying pan you used to sear the pork cheeks and cook until they are softened but not browned. This will help to release their flavors and create a rich base for your sauce.
Once your vegetables are cooked, add a liquid of your choice. Cider or white wine with stock are popular options, but you can also use red wine or beer if you prefer. The liquid should cover the pork cheeks about halfway.
Add any herbs or spices you like, such as thyme, bay leaves, or peppercorns. Cover the casserole dish with a lid and place it in the oven at a low temperature (around 160°C) for 2-3 hours.
After a few hours in the oven, your pork cheeks should be tender and falling apart. You can serve them as a rustic stew with mashed potatoes or strain the sauce and reduce it down into a rich glaze for a more refined dish.
Recipes Featuring Pork Cheeks
If you’re looking to incorporate pork cheeks into your cooking, here are some delicious recipes to try:
1. Carrilladas de Cerdo: This traditional Spanish recipe for braised pork cheeks is slow-cooked with red wine, resulting in a melt-in-your-mouth texture and rich flavor. It’s perfect as part of a tapas spread or as a main course with roasted potatoes.
2. Pork Cheek Stew: This simple stew recipe features tender pork cheeks cooked with vegetables, apple, and thyme in a flavorful broth of cider and chicken stock. Serve it up with creamy mashed potatoes for a hearty and satisfying meal.
3. Pork Cheek Tacos: For a fun and flavorful twist on traditional tacos, try using shredded pork cheeks as your protein. Top them with fresh cilantro, diced onion, and a squeeze of lime juice for a delicious and easy meal.
4. Pork Cheek Ragu: This Italian-inspired recipe features slow-cooked pork cheeks in a rich tomato sauce, served over pasta or polenta. It’s a comforting and satisfying dish that’s perfect for colder months.
No matter how you choose to prepare them, pork cheeks are a delicious and versatile cut of meat that can add flavor and depth to any dish. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different flavors and cooking techniques to find your favorite way to enjoy them.
Where To Buy Pork Cheeks
Pork cheeks can be a bit harder to find than other cuts of pork, but they are becoming more popular in specialty butcher shops and online retailers.
If you have a local butcher, it’s worth asking if they carry pork cheeks. Some may even be able to special order them for you if they don’t regularly stock them.
Online retailers like D’Artagnan and Snake River Farms also offer pork cheeks for purchase. These retailers specialize in high-quality meats and often source from small farms that prioritize animal welfare.
It’s important to note that because pork cheeks are a less common cut, they may be pricier than other cuts of pork. However, their unique flavor and tenderness make them worth the investment for a special meal or occasion.
When purchasing pork cheeks, look for ones that are fresh and have a good amount of marbling. This will ensure that they cook up tender and flavorful.