Carrillada is a melt in your mouth, get up and dance, and smack yourself in the head for not having eaten this earlier type of food.
Yes, it is that good. What is carrillada, you ask? Simply put, it is cheek— beef cheek is carrillada de ternera, pork cheek is carrillada de cerdo, lamb cheek is carrillada de cordero…etc. And despite their differences in taste, all carrilladas are delicious.
The cut of meat is unique because it is quite meaty but surprisingly lean– a rare marvel for many who expect it to be either fatty or tough. It does need to be braised, slow cooked over a low heat for at least a few hours, but the end result is a fork- tender piece of meat that is one of the best things I’ve ever eaten in Spain, and that is saying a lot!
Here is a delicious recipe for pork cheek (carrillada de cerdo) which I’ve adapted from the excellent Spanish food blog and cookbook author Recetas de Rechupete.
Braised Iberian Pork Cheek with Port Wine and Honey
- 12 iberian pork cheeks (about 1 kilo or 2 lbs)
- 1 onion
- 6 shallots
- 1 green apple
- 2 carrots
- 1 red pepper
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 2 cups of port wine (a very sweet dessert wine)
- 24 fingerling potatoes (or 4-5 normal potatoes)
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 Tablespoons of honey
- ½ teaspoon thyme
- ½ teaspoon parsley (fresh if possible)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 Tablespoons of flour
- ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 cups of beef stock
- Smash the garlic in a mortar and pestle and add in the thyme, honey, parsley and a tablespoon of water. Continue to smash some more until you achieve a nice paste.
- Pat the pork cheeks completely dry with paper towels and then cover the pork cheeks with the paste and season with kosher salt and pepper. Let them marinate for at least an hour before cooking.
- After allowing them to absorb the flavors for about an hour, quickly dredge the pork cheeks in flour (they shouldn't be coated in flour, just a hint should remain).
- Heat the olive oil in a heavy pan on a medium high heat.
- Sear the pork cheeks (about 30 seconds per each of its 3-4 sides) until all sides are browned.
- After each cheek is seared, remove from the pan and reserve.
- Dice the onion and red pepper to a small dice.
- Peel the shallots and cut each one in half.
- Cut the carrots into thin round slices.
- Transfer the oil used to sear the meat into a large, heavy pot. Add a little more oil if necessary to completely cover the bottom about 1 cm.
- On a low heat, sauté the onions, peppers, shallots and carrots for 15 minutes.
- When the vegetables are golden, add the pork cheek and the 2 cups of port wine (any port will do, although there are various varieties of port wine and each will leave you with a slightly different dish)
- Add the bay leaf and, over a medium heat, allow everything to reduce 50%, about 15 minutes. Make sure to stir while it is reducing or it will stick.
- Peel the potatoes (if using large potatoes cut them into bite size chunks).
- Peel the apple and dice it to a medium dice.
- Add the beef stock to the pot and cook over a low heat for about 1.5 hours, until the carrilladas are completely tender. Twenty minutes before taking it off the heat add the potatoes and apple to the pot.
- When everything is fork tender, take off the heat and serve.
I warn you, if you follow these instructions and make this amazing carrillada, you will probably cry tears of joy. Pork cheek will become your new favorite meat… you’re welcome!