Time for a pretty dish. I call this one Cheek by Jowl because, well, that is exactly what it is: slow-braised wild boar cheek next to a baton of crispy-fried guanciale, which is jowl bacon. Oh yeah, and there are fresh peas, fava beans and chickpeas, a saffron-cream sauce and lotsa cool spring garnish. But let’s face it. This is all about the pork.
This one is worth your time. The braised cheek falls apart with a fork. And who doesn’t like crispy bacon? The various legumes are bright, slightly sweet, yet substantial enough to play the part of the starch. The saffron-cream sauce is drop-dead gorgeous — I have a thing for mixing yellow and green — and its silky, slightly barnyardy-grassy aroma (that’s the saffron) link everything together. As a good sauce should. Finally, each garnish adds a flavor note: onion flowers, fennel frond, vetch tip.
The one down side to this dish? It’s small. It will not fill you up unless you have other courses. So plan accordingly.
The dish sounds intimidating, I know. But it actually isn’t all that tough to make. In fact, the hardest thing to come by are the pork cheeks. I got these off Matilda the Wild Pig, so I had an advantage. You can order pork cheeks from really good butchers, but I admit they are hard to find. And you can’t really make a dish called Cheek by Jowl with no cheek. Beef cheeks, however, are more readily available.
Or you could scrap the whole name thing and just use a little bit of pork shoulder or neck meat. Hell, you can skip the guanciale and use thick-cut regular bacon. The dish will still be good. But it won’t be Cheek by Jowl…
Once you solve the conundrum of finding pork cheeks, everything else is pretty easy. If you despair and can't find them locally, you can use beef cheeks. I cooked my cheeks sous vide. Tough cuts melt in your mouth, given enough time. And few cuts are tougher than a hog's cheek muscles. Can you braise this traditionally? Yes, but you risk the cheeks falling apart. The legumes should be easy to get in spring, except maybe the chickpeas. Look in a Latin market, or just skip them.
- 4 pork cheeks, or 1 1/2 pounds beef cheek, cut into portions
- 1/4 cup lard
- 4-6 fresh sage leaves
- 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons minced shallot
- 2 tablespoons white wine or champagne
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 teaspoon saffron, crumbled
- 2 teaspoons lard
- 1/4 pound guanciale, cut into batons
- 1 cup shelled peas
- 1 cup shelled fava beans
- 1 cup shelled fresh green chickpeas
- Onion flowers, pea or vetch tips, fennel fronds for garnish
- Salt the cheeks and put them into a vacuum seal bag with the lard and sage. Seal and cook sous vide at 180 degrees for 8-10 hours. If you don't have a sous vide machine, nestle the cheeks in a heavy lidded pot with the lard, sage and enough chicken stock to cover. Put in the oven at 200 degrees and cook until tender, about 6-8 hours.
- While the cheeks are cooking, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add plenty of salt; it should taste like the sea. Boil the peas, favas and chickpeas for 90 seconds. Remove them and shock in a bowl filled with ice water. Once they are cool, set them aside in a bowl.
- Add the 2 teaspoons of lard to a small pan and fry the guanciale until crispy over medium to medium-low heat. Set aside and reserve the fat.
- When the cheeks are ready, make the saffron sauce. Sweat the shallots in the butter over medium heat until they are translucent. Do not let them brown. Add the white wine and boil this until the wine has almost all evaporated. Add the cream and saffron and stir well. Bring to the steaming point, but do not simmer. Add salt to taste. Let this cook for 10 minutes or so, then strain it through a fine-mesh strainer. Return to the heat just to keep warm.
- To finish, toss the peas, favas and chickpeas with the reserved fat from the guanciale, plus a little of the braising liquid from the cheeks. Paint the cheeks with the sherry vinegar.
- Plate by pouring a little sauce in each plate, Top with some of the pea mixture. Lay the cheek on one side of the plate, one or more crispy pieces of guanciale on the other. Garnish with the onion flowers, fennel frond and pea or vetch tip.