Pork cheek tacos with blood orange and chipotle

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
4 cloves
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.

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39 thoughts on “Pork cheek tacos with blood orange and chipotle

  1. I have cheeks defrosting as we speak. The orange element I have used before, its looking like its being used again. Also have Wahaca Arbol in the cupboard.
    Jerk was well received in Germany.Speaking of Jamacian/London (erm sort of) go see Dreadzone if you can, caught them a few weeks back in Exeter, fantastic.
    Still loving your blog. Keep up the good work.

  2. Man, you are a goddess in the kitchen. I want to cook that right now! How delicious Helen. Inspired MExican-ness. You have inspired me.

    Getting back from MExico in the morning. Have has such an amazing time cooking with women in shacks in the middle of nowhere. It has been really amazing.

    Great post!

  3. I made minor changes to your recipe for pork cheek and blood orange tacos, not because I dreamed I could do better but rather to make use of ingredients on hand, most notable some leftover Gruner Veltliner.

    You’re right, it was one of the best slow-cooked dishes we’ve ever had in this flat or, for that matter, London.

    Very grateful for the inspiration.

  4. hello helen – a friend posted a link to your blog on my FB wall yesterday with an ‘I assume you already read this blog?’

    holy mother of slow cooked porky goodness. this recipe NEEDS to be made.

    i shall do so this weekend and report back (possibly with pictures)

    =)

  5. Betty – sorry to not answer your question sooner, yeah they were trimmed. Did yours still have skin on then?

    Jonathan – aah I remember with fondness your phase. Time to revisit.

    Ryan – Ace! So glad to hear they turned out well.

    Oliver – Fuckries! Amaze-balls.

    The Grubworm – for a minute there I thought you meant you ate pork cheek tacos for lunch every day you lucky, lucky bugger. Now I realise you mean you get food down your top every lunchtime. In which case, we have something in common.

    KSalty – I know, ‘Fuckries’. And yeah, totally worth the cheek burning. It was like Woman Vs. Food.

    Jenn -Thanks!

    Dan – Cheers! And CHEERS!

  6. Wow – this post had me salivating while reading, and nodding along in rueful recognition at the burnt cheek, stained t-shirt issue. That’s me. Every lunchtime.

    The combo of orange and pork is inspired, especially when married with limey guacamole. I bet that citrus just cut through the fat beautifully letting those unctuous pork fats coat you tongue a-new with each bit. Mmmmm.

  7. Just made these – probably the best slow cooked pork i’ve ever made. Not that i have great experience of Mexican food but its at least as good as anything i’ve had in Wahaca. Nom (and thanks!)

  8. Emailed this recipe to my flatmate yesterday and somehow word got out and another friend has just invited himself over for supper tomorrow! Can I ask though, were the cheeks you bought already trimmed, or was it literally just the cheek cut from a pig’s head (which is what I’ve got)?

  9. becca – Yeah, should be fine.

    Robert – So do I. Keep em cheap and cheerful. Fingers crossed.

    WalshyMK – Oh it will feed 3 no problem. There are two of us and we had enough pork for two rounds of tacos (about 10 in each round!) and two massive burritos.

  10. Helen –
    Amazing. I’m making them tomorrow. How many people does this make for? (I am feeding 3 greedy people)

    Everyone else –
    Waitrose sells pigs cheeks quite cheaply too (though not quite as cheap as that!)

  11. Interesting! I love pork cheeks but I hope it doesn’t go the way of lamb shanks, which has risen in price due to demand. I miss the carnitas I gobbled down greedily in San Francisco :-)

  12. Wow. These look and sound incredible! I’ve never cooked with pork cheeks but at £2.50 for 10 perhaps it’s time to start. There’s Morrison’s near me so maybe they’ll have some too?

    Not sure I’d be able to cook them slowly on the hob though, even my smallest ring seems permanently set to vicious boil. I’m guessing the same amount of time in a mid to low oven would be about right though instead?

  13. Rob – yeah, fair point!

    Lizzie – You just get some fajita/wrap thingies and cut out circles from them. Toast them really briefly in a dry pan. Ta da!

    bellini – I bet they would. My, have I had some messy times with sangria.

  14. Becci – Ace. Although that link doesn’t work for me…

    Rob – have you been here? http://helengraves.co.uk/2010/05/buen-provecho-seriously-good-mexican-street-food/

    Tori – mm love the idea of radish on there.

    Chloe – You’ll just have to make them…

    Caroline – Morrisons! £2.50 for ten. Don’t bother with William Rose – they are a rip off, their meat isn’t that good and they are rude. Try the GG Sparkes van on North Cross Rd instead.

  15. Helen,

    Where did you get pig cheeks for that price? I got six from William Rose in East Dulwich and had to pay £15 for the priviledge due to “labour costs”…..were these from your favourite Irish butchers on Rye Lane?

    Pork cheek ragu is also delicious btw.

    Many thanks.

  16. Wow – these look absolutely incredible. They remind me of the carnitas burritos I made a few months ago, but yours might actually look even better than that (if you’re interested: http://wp.me/pLpVQ-oO). I just love braised pork burritos. And I love the idea of using blood oranges! WANT!

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