Carrilladas (Baked Pork Cheeks)
In a previous life I used to shove pork cheeks into the oven with some salt, black pepper and a slight drizzle of EVOO and call it a day. They would turn out fine, but then I learnt a trick that would make pork cheeks spectacular.
One morning, when I was living in Barcelona, I went to buy carrilladas, which is Spanish for pork cheeks. Nuria, the butcher’s wife, asked me if I was buying pork cheeks because I had seen the news the night before. Her eyes twinkled as she waited for my reply. Well no, I hadn't. In fact I never watch the television. You might think I live under a rock, and I probably do. She told me everyone had been coming that morning to buy pork cheeks. They had seen a report where some chef was recommending that before cooking pork cheeks you rinse them and then soak them in water with salt for 20 minutes. And then you cook them whichever way you want to. She insisted I must do that to my pork cheeks.
Some people are squirmish about eating pork cheeks. I guess they think it's rubbery like pork snout, trotters or ears, when in fact pork cheeks are like normal meat. I find them more red meat-like and more tender than other pork cuts, such as pork loin.
Anyway, that evening I tried what Nuria suggested. I rinsed the pork cheeks then I soaked them in water and salt for 20 minutes. They really turned out way better. Absolutely spectacular. They were very tasty and very soft, while the outermost part was slightly crispy, though I think the crispiness was due to being baked in the oven. No wonder Nuria's eyes twinkled. She did realise that we would be onto something with all this rinsing and soaking of the carrilladas.
Baked Pork Cheeks Recipe
I intentionally did not put any measurements in the ingredients list for this recipe so you get to choose how much pork cheeks you want per serving (i.e. how hungry each person is), and whether you like your dishes very or just slightly seasoned.
Freshly ground black pepper
Herbes de provence
Fino wine (optional)
Preheat the oven to 180ºC.
Rinse the pork cheeks under some running water. Put them into a mixing bowl and cover with water. Add about 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Leave them to soak for exactly 20 minutes.
Drain the pork cheeks. Arrange them in an ovenproof dish or pan. Sprinkle salt, freshly ground black pepper, herbes de provence (or any other herb you fancy) and drizzle with some olive oil. I like to add some fino wine. You can add any white wine instead or no wine at all.
Bake in the oven for about 35-45 minutes depending on how under or overcooked you prefer your meat.
I would recommend serving them with some salad, baked potatoes or French fries, and with some red wine.