Red Wine Braised Pork Cheeks with Spinach
A Culinary Medicine approach uses quality over quantity. But the fact of life is that high quality ingredients – especially things like meat, poultry, and seafood – can be expensive.
How do we solve this dilemma?
By getting back to our roots and taking a page from our ancestors. Our ancestors – and all great chefs – waste nothing! We carry on that tradition and embody that spirit in the practical culinary medicine “Zero Waste Kitchen.” This means by using our knowledge of flavor profiles and cookery techniques we can transform traditionally snubbed ingredients into works of culinary art.
In this case the pork is organically raised, free pastured, heritage breeds of Berkshire and Red Wattle. The cut is pork cheek, which is generally disregarded in the US. In Europe and other countries and cultures, such cuts are highly prized. In Italy this is used to make the cured bacon like product, gunanciale. In Spain, braised pork cheeks are a popular item in Spanish tapas restaurants and known as carrilladas.
In this version of red wine braised pork cheeks, a purée of cauliflower along with the natural collagens that break down during the slow and low braising of the pork cheeks, is used to thicken the sauce. Any seasonal green that you fancy can be substituted for the spinach. Likewise, other inexpensive cuts of pork like a leg roast steak could be substituted for the pork cheeks.
- 1.5 kg (~3 pounds) cauliflower
- 1.5 L (about 1 ½ quarts) chicken stock
- 2 Tbs olive oil
- 250 g (about 1 medium) onion; finely chopped
- 100 g (approximately 1 medium) leek – white part only; finely chopped
- 50 g (approximately one medium) shallot; finely chopped
- 350 g (about 4 medium) carrots; finely chopped
- 175 g (about 4 medium) celery stalks; finely chopped
- 250 g (approximately 1 medium bulb) fennel; finely chopped
- 15 g (~3) garlic cloves; finely chopped
- 50 mL apple brandy
- 200 mL (about 1 cup) dry red wine
- 1.5 Kg (about 3 pounds pork cheeks); excess fat trimmed
- 50 g (about 2 ounces) organic AP flour
- 18 g (~2 Tbs) ground cumin
- 9 g (~1 Tbs) each hot paprika, ground coriander, salt
- 3 g (~ 1 tsp.) fresh ground black pepper
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 bay leaf
- Several sprigs fresh thyme
- Several sprigs fresh parsley
- 6 black peppercorns
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 325 g (about 12 ounces) fresh spinach
In a large Dutch oven or oven-proof pot, bring enough salted water to cover the cauliflower to a boil. Remove cauliflower large stems and add the florets. Continue to cook over roiling boil until fork tender, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the florets and allow to cool. Discard the water and dry the Dutch oven or pot.
In a food processor or blender, combine the cauliflower and 1 liter of the chicken stock (reserve the remaining 500 mL) to make a cauliflower purée. Set aside, and reserve. Using cheesecloth, create a parcel of the cinnamon stick, bay leaf, thyme, parsley, and peppercorns. Set aside. Preheat oven to 325°F
In the Dutch oven or heavy ovenproof pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Combine the cumin, coriander, paprika, salt, and pepper in a small container and mix well. Add about 1/3 of that to the flour. Add the seasoned flour mixture and to the pork cheeks and toss well. Quickly brown the pork cheeks in small batches, remove and reserve. If there is excess fat in the pot, drain it off.
Deglaze the Dutch oven or pot with the apple brandy and red wine. add the alliums (onions, leeks, and shallot). Stir until softened, about 3-5 minutes. Add the carrots, celery, fennel, and garlic. Cook an additional 4-5 minutes. Place the sachet in the pot. Add the remaining 500 mL of chicken stock. Add the remaining spice mixture to the cauliflower purée and add to the pot. Place the pork cheeks on top so everything is submerged except the very tops of the cheeks. Remove from the stove top and place in the oven and allow to braise for four hours.
After removing from the oven, remove the pork cheeks. Add the lemon juice and spinach to the remaining mixture, combine well. To serve, place the mixture on the bottom and top with pork cheeks. Garnish as desired. Serve immediately.