Pig’s Cheeks Sous Vide – A Rare Treat

pigs-cheeks-sous-vide-3-of-5Do you see what I did in the headline? That subtle little play on words. A sort of culinary double entendre. The pig’s cheeks, cooked sous vide are cooked rare. Pig’s cheeks are not very easy to come by. Both play to add a bit of wit to the headline. You will just have to take my word for it, this is a rare treat. It is not very difficult to prepare any element of this dish but, you will need to have your timing chain well adjusted. 

I served Pig’s Cheeks with Garlic Mash, Caramelised Apples, Stem Broccoli and Pork Gravy. The ingredients list is slightly involved.  I had some highly concentrated pork stock in the freezer. This was the base for the gravy. So, here’s the ingredients list:

For the cheeks

  • 24 pigs cheeks
  • 3 teaspoons of 5 spice powder

For the gravy

  • 1 half pint of concentrated pork stock
  • A glass of white wine
  • A pinch of salt

For the garlic mash

  • A bulb of garlic
  • A kilo of potatoes
  • 300 ml of milk
  • A knob of butter
  • A large pinch of salt

For the apples

  • 4 Bramley apples
  • 3 or 4 large knobs of butter
  • 2 teaspoons of brown sugar

You can work out how to do the broccoli on your own. I steamed ours. The trickiest part of this recipe is preparing the pig’s cheeks. What I did here was to take the obvious membrane off the outside of the cheeks. I prepared 24 cheeks to serve six people.

Some say there is no need to remove the membrane.

Some say there is no need to remove the membrane.

Dust the cheeks, on one side, with five spice powder.

5 spice is pretty strong. Don't overdo it.

5 spice is pretty strong. Don’t overdo it.

Vacuum sealed the cheeks and cook them sous vide for 8 hours at 80ºC. (I will experiment with lower temperatures and longer cooking times next time.)

This bit needs to be done well in advance.

This bit needs to be done well in advance.

Once the cheeks go into the water bath, there is nothing to do for seven hours or so. To make a delicious garlic mash, place the bulb of garlic in the oven at 200ºC for half an hour. The resulting bulb will look like this:

The garlic takes on a lovely sweet flavour.

The garlic takes on a lovely sweet flavour.

Boil or steam the potatoes. Gently pull the garlic bulb apart and squeeze the flesh out of each clove. It will be the consistency of toothpaste. Add this to the milk. Warm the milk until it is simmering. Add the garlic milk, butter and salt to the potatoes. Mash until you have a creamy lightly airy consistency.

Heat a frying pan to medium and add one of the knobs of butter. Slice the apples and add to the pan. Sprinkle with brown sugar. Turn gently and brown on the other side. Remove and keep warm.

The apples give of a lovely sweet buttery aroma.

The apples give of a lovely sweet buttery aroma.

When the apples are cooked, add the pork stock and wine. Turn up to a rolling boil. Reduce until you have a gravy consistency. Taste and season with a bit of salt. The flavour of the apples will help harmonise the dish. Remove the pig’s cheeks from the sous vide. Pat them dry and very briefly fry them in a little oil, to brown the exterior.

These look really good and taste fantastic.

These look really good and taste fantastic.

Assemble the dish and drizzle with some of the gravy.

What's rare is good. This was very good.

What’s rare is good. This was very good.

This is a rare treat for whoever is dining with you. Though, it will be less rare in this house in future.

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Latest comments
  • I love pig cheeks – I’ll have to try them with a bit of five spice, they sound delicious 🙂

  • This dish is so appealing – I can get pigs’ cheeks easily here in BJ, likewise broccoli and garlic, Five Spice Powder – wu xiang fen, 五 香粉 – is available everywhere. BUT Bromley apples no way (and haven’t found an ideal apple substitute here so far), also don’t have a Sous Vide contraption.
    Need to think about how to make something akin to this because it sounds delicious with mash!

  • Sounds delicious!!

  • I haven’t seen pig cheeks at all here, just beef cheeks. I’ll have to talk to the butcher about them when I go in tomorrow after some calf liver. I do find these secondary cuts very tasty; I made an ox heart casserole the other day and it was wolfed down pdq, great flavour and a delicate fine texture to the meat. It’s fiddly to prepare, but definitely worth it!

      • For the nutritional benefits of offal, if nothing else.
        And I think a new name is called for. ‘Offal’ is just awful, ‘secondary cuts’ is mimsy and misleading. ‘Organ meat’ is… well, a bit too picturesque. How about ‘heritage meats’, to celebrate the fact that our ancestors knew a good thing when they ate it?

          • Kate – methinks ‘organ meats’ would still be not explanatory, what is wrong with offal? . . . yes, beef cheeks here also mostly . . . but can get kidneys, tripe and usually sweetbreads and the too fatty brains if one truly wants !!! . . . small mercies . . .

  • I’ve eaten many pig parts (even ears), but never had whole pig cheeks before (just as a Ragu), but I hear it’s one of the tastiest parts of the pig! Looks stunning and the apples are a nice touch.

  • This looks amazing. I know I keep saying it but I must get a sous vide machine thingy … I do have one query …. and I have seen this in another recipe for pig cheeks by Nigel Slater …. how come the pig cheeks are so small? Or is it that mine are very large? Or has the butcher already cut the cheeks into smaller bits? I sometimes make a stew with pig cheeks and two cheeks (both sides of the head so to speak) do 4-6 people. Is it because what I think of as a cheek is in fact the entire side of the face do you think? This is a strange conundrum that I sometimes worry about …. to be fair only when I should be working, but …..

    • There can indeed be some confusion about what is called the cheek. When I buy them they are the entire side of the face and one of them is plenty as a serving for one. I was wondering about 24 cheeks until I saw how small they were in the photo.

      • Glad it wasn’t just me Stefan 🙂

      • aha, that solves that mystery – thank you Conor 🙂

  • Conor, I do not know where to start here really – this dish, as always, reads and looks delicious. I am intrigued since I never had Pigs cheeks before (to my best of knowledge). Here of course I will not be able to make this dish, but……I am feasting on your photographs and recipe. Thank you and btw – I love that garlic picture. Did you take it???? 🙂

  • Great post, Conor. You should try them for 48 hrs at 57C, that will be quite different as they will be medium rare and pink, yet tender and juicy.
    Does your 5 spice include salt?

      • So you didn’t put any salt on the cheeks apart from the gravy? I think they’d benefit from a bit of salt. But that may be my personal preference.
        A braise would be like doing them sous-vide at 90C or so.

  • I had beef cheeks but still have to try pig’s cheeks. Though I’m not much into sous-vide cooking, I would definitely not say no to such a plate in front of me – it looks delicious! 🙂

  • I would love to find a source for these!!!! The recipe looks fantastic.

  • Holy Pig!! How big is your sous vide container for that many? My pot for my immersion circulator can fit two chicken breasts at best. I bet pig’s cheeks are divine! When I catch ling cod at the coast, the ling cod cheeks are my favorite part of that very ugly but tasty white fish. Bravo for what was certainly a great entertaining and tasty meal for all!

  • What a lovely meal – one I might request for my birthday! No one to make it for me, however… I’m surprised the 5-spice wasn’t too strong, as it looks like you used it like a dry rub. I guess i neeed to get mine out and play with it more often! Great combo of flavors!

  • A very appealing dish, Conor, one that you photographed quite well. WIth my butcher now retired, I’ve no idea where I might find pig cheeks. I feel a quest coming on …

  • Great post Conor. That garlic photo – stunning!

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