Pork Cheek Tacos

A few years ago when we were in Tokyo, we had this amazing meal of tuna jowl and it was life changing.  Still to this day that meal is in my top five – very near the top.  I had learned long ago from Anthony Bourdain on No Reservations that the cheeks were the best part of the animal and this meal proved it.  From then on, I have looked for cheeks on menus and at the butcher.

Which leads me to to this recipe – there is no better way to make tacos than with some slow cooked pork cheeks.  When cooked properly, the cheeks have this creamy, melt in your mouth texture and after a couple hours of braising or in the slow cooker they are falling apart.  Yum!!  Tacos are no joke and I take them pretty seriously, that’s why this recipe has a lot more steps than many of my others.  It’s not difficult, it just requires quite a few components but let me assure you that the effort is repaid ten-fold and these tacos are delicious!

Pork Cheek Tacos

Pork Cheeks

For the cheeks:

  • 300g of pork cheeks
  • 1 400g can of diced tomatoes
  • 400ml of water
  • 1 onion sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic smashed
  • 1 tsp of cumin
  • 1 tablespoon of paprika
  • 1 teaspoon of chipotle powder (or more for if you like it extra spicy)

For the garnishes:

Avocado “salsa”

  • 1 avocado
  • handful of cherry tomatoes cut into quarters
  • 2 tablespoons of diced pickled red onions (or you can use regular red onions)
  • juice of half a lime
  • salt and pepper to taste

Slaw and sauce

  • 1 cup shredded red cabbage
  • 1 cup shredded white cabbage
  • 1/2 cup of greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup of cream fresh or sour cream
  • 1 whole chipotle pepper in adobo sauce diced or 1 Tablespoon chipotle pepper salsa
  • zest and juice of half a lime
  • salt

For Serving

  • 8 flour gorditas
  • pomegranate seeds for serving

Sprinkle pork cheeks with salt and pepper, pour a tablespoon of olive oil in a hot pan or heavy bottomed braising pot and sear your cheeks.  Once seared, remove the cheeks and pour in your tomatoes and water to deglaze – scraping up all the nice cheeky bits.  Put your pork cheeks into the slow cooker along with your onions, garlic and spices and then pour over the the tomato water mixture.  Alternatively, place everything back into your braising pot.  Cook the cheeks on low in your slow cooker for 6-8 hours or in the oven at 150C for 3 hours.

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When your cheeks are done, remove them from the sauce. Take one cheek and some of the onions and break it up onto a lined baking sheet.  Place the baking sheet under a hot broiler until it crisps up and gets charred along the edges.  Keep on eye on it!

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Take the sauce from the pan and drain it using a fine sieve, making sure to push down to release the juices from the remaining tomatoes, onions and garlic.  Take the sieved sauce and place it in a pan to reduce over a medium heat. Once reduced into a bbq sauce texture, break up your pork cheeks into the sauce and combine – including the crispy pork.  The burnt edges of the crispy pork will give it a nice smoky taste. Reduce the heat and keep warm until serving, stirring occasionally.

For the Tortillas:

Preheat your oven to 200C.  “Hang” your tortillas over the oven rack and bake until crisp – around 10 minutes but keep an eye out!  This will create a nice hard taco shell.  Thanks Pintrest!

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For the Salsa:

Super simple! Chop up your avocado, tomatoes and onions, pour over lime juice and salt, mix to combine.

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For a quick pickled onion, check out this recipe:  http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/quick-pickled-onions

For the Slaw and Sauce:

Combine yogurt, creme fresh, chipotle, lime juice and zest and salt in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, combine your cabbage.  Pour over 3/4 of the sauce and mix to combine.  Reserve 1/4 sauce for serving.

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Now you’re finally ready to dish up! Place the meat, slaw, salsa into the taco shell, drizzle some sauce on top then finish over with some pomegranate seeds.

Pork Cheek Tacos

I'd love to hear what you think!