Stewed Ibérico pork cheeks is a dish that is always on the menu in Guijuelo’s best restaurants. In fact, it is always present in their homes as well, in particular during the coldest months of the year.
As my neighbour always says, “there are two seasons in Guijuelo, winter and the train season”. Stew type dishes have always been of great importance in our “winter” recipes (as winter is actually most of the year here). Hence the reason why Ibérico pork cheeks (acorn-fed Ibérico pork cheeks at this time, since this is the time of year when the free-ranging pigs are slaughtered), beautifully stewed and accompanied by its two essential partners, potatoes and carrots, is one of the most traditional flavours to be found in our recipe books.
In the photograph you can see what we consider to be the “original” recipe, the traditional recipe that has always been used. All you need are four Ibérico pork cheeks to prepare this recipe for four persons, along with another four gorgeous carrots, some potatoes, a couple of onions, four garlic cloves and if you are preparing this dish in autumn, well a little bunch of Fairy Ring mushrooms that will enhance the dish with their mellow aroma. If you don’t have any Fairy Ring mushrooms available, it’s really quite alright, because these mushrooms are not actually part of the traditional origin of the dish. The amount of potatoes is a personal decision, although at least one medium sized potato per person is adequate.
You should also have a glass of smooth white wine and at least a litre of meat broth, preferably made with Ibérico pork and ready to add to the recipe. In this recipe we have used a traditional vegetable sauté, a chicken carcass, two pork cheeks and a nice piece of FISAN Ibérico ham bone (including its marbled fat and some ham). If you carefully skim the broth while it first starts to simmer and then strain it the result will be a clear, savoury delight.
The process to make these Stewed Ibérico Pork Cheeks is a classic and there is not much complication to it:
1. Clean and prepare the pork cheeks, add salt and pepper and lightly flour the pieces, then searing them in olive oil (which should be hot but not smoking) just enough to seal the juices, but insuring that they are not fried through.
2. Meanwhile we prepare the other ingredients (finely chopping the onion, garlic cloves and three of the carrots). We also put the Fairy Ring mushrooms in a glass of white wine (at least 300 ml) to rehydrate them.
3. Once you take the pork cheeks out of the hot oil, add a bit more oil to the pot and sauté the finely chopped vegetables, making sure they are cooked through but have not turned golden. This is the moment when you add the rosemary, thyme, oregano and any other herbs you might want to include, as this is a matter of personal taste, however, do take care that the flavours do not mask the stew itself.
4. Then you put the pork cheeks back into the pot, add the wine with the Fairy Ring mushrooms and cover it all up with the broth. This is when the stew has to slowly simmer away to its full richness. (I personally like the pork cheeks to be extremely tender, so this process takes at least a couple of hours). Check on the stew every so often and add broth as needed.
5. In the meantime you have to prepare the potatoes and the carrot we have left over, cutting them up into medium sized pieces as they will take about 30 minutes to cook.
6. When the stew is about thirty minutes away from being finished, take the pork cheeks out and put the entire content of the pot into the blender to obtain a brilliantly beautiful and light sauce. Now put it all back into the pot, the sauce and the cheeks.
7. All you have to do now is add the potatoes and carrots to the pot, cover it all up with a little bit more broth or some water and let it all simmer together for another thirty minutes until the potatoes and carrots are cooked through.
This is merely the most traditional recipe to enjoy your pork cheeks. In Guijuelo there are also another couple of very traditional ways of preparing this dish: with red wine (which is practically the same recipe but with a combination of red wine and broth, although it does not include the potatoes and carrots). And the most original recipe in our area (and also the easiest preparation): braised pork cheeks. However, this is another story that we will enjoy with some sauces and tell you all about later on, once the weather allows us to get the barbeque going in the garden.