A slow-cooked meat dish always wants something to offset the richness (beef ragu with gremolata for another example), which is why I thought these pork cheeks would work well in tacos. They need leisurely cooking to melt the fat and render the meat fork-tender. I was thinking along the lines of saucy carnitas.
The blood oranges have hit the shops and so I used some juice to braise the cheeks, combined with Mexican spices and smoky chipotle flakes (you could also add some chipotles en adobo). After 3 hours of bubbling, the meat was coming apart in shreds and the sauce intensely flavoured; it’s probably one of the most delicious slow cooked dishes I’ve ever made. We piled it onto pan-scorched tacos and topped with lime-heavy guacamole, green chilli and Thomasina Miers’ pink onions pickled in citrus juice and herbs.
The leftovers made the largest and most kick ass burrito I’ve ever eaten in my life. I would’ve been embarrassed had anyone actually seen me eating it; meat all over my hands and face. I burnt my cheek with chilli. The sauce left its indelible mark in no less than 3 places on my t-shirt. Totally worth it though, especially considering I bought 10 cheeks for £2.50. Result.
Pork cheeks braised with blood orange and chipotle
10 pork cheeks
Juice of 1 large blood orange
6 allspice berries
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon crushed chipotle chillies (or to taste)
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
2 carrots, very finely chopped
2 onions, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
2 tablespoons tomato purée
1 litre vegetable stock (or enough to comfortably cover the cheeks; the sauce will be reduced at the end)
1 teaspoon sugar
Flour and oil for searing the cheeks
Heat a few tablespoons of the oil in a large, heavy based saucepan. Dust some flour onto a plate and use it to coat the pork cheeks by turning them over on the plate. Once the oil is hot, sear the cheeks a few at a time until brown on all sides then set aside on a plate.
Add the onions and carrots to the pan and cook for 5 minutes or so until softened. Add the spices (in a little bit of muslin if you want to be fancy and make it easy to fish them out later on), orange juice, bay leaves, oregano, tomato purée, sugar and stock, bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer. Add the pig cheeks back to the pan, put a lid on and cook on the lowest heat possible for 3 hours.
After this time, check the sauce for seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary. Remove the meat from the sauce; it should be extremely tender and falling apart at the touch. Shred it and set aside. Fish the whole spices from the sauce then reduce it over a high heat by about two thirds. Basically you want enough to coat the meat in a rich sauce. Add the meat back to the sauce and warm through.
Serve on tacos with guacamole and onions lightly pickled in orange and lime juice with herbs. To cut tacos, use a large glass, teacup or knife to make circles from a large fajita wrap and toast lightly in a dry pan.