Pig cheeks are one of the real bargains to be found at your butcher and are a proper treat. Quite lean, yet incredibly moist and tender, thanks to a bundle of gelatinous strands which break down when slow cooked, they leave you with addictive little nuggets of porky perfection.
Pig cheeks are great on their own, or added to a big pot of chilli to add smoky sweetness, but inspired by the mouthwatering tweets by our friend, West Midlands BBQ supremo, Andy Stubbs of Andy’s Low ‘n’ Slow, who regularly knocks out great food to the people of Birmingham, we decided to go for some Pig Cheek Tacos.
Contrary to what we’re generally sold as tacos in the UK, real tacos generally come on a soft, warm con tortilla – The crispy shells are the thing of Tex-Mex fast food. We cannot stress enough what a difference fresh corn tortillas make – The bright yellow, plastic wrapped ones from the supermarket are a pale imitation. The great people at Cool Chile make theirs daily and ship throughout the UK and beyond. They also sell Masa Harina, so you can make your own, like we do. (We don’t work for, nor are sponsored by them, we just really like their products and their service)
- 12 pig cheeks, trimmed of any excess external silver skin
- 12 fresh corn tortillas
- Salsa roja or chipotle paste
- Fresh coriander
- ¼ cup sea salt
- ¼ cup demerara/muscavado sugar
- 2 tablespoons black pepper
- 1 tablespoon good quality chilli powder
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika (sweet or hot, depending on your preference)
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- ½ teaspoon onion powder
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon mustard powder
- ¾ cup honey
- 1 tablespoon orange juice
- 2 teaspoons 100% agave Tequila plata or reposado
Burnt Pineapple Salsa
- ½ fresh pineapple, skinned and cut into ½cm/¼ inch slices
- ½ red onion, finely chopped
- 1 fresh jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped
- 1 small handful of fresh chopped coriander
- juice of ½ a lime
- pinch of sea salt
- pinch of smoked paprika
Char the pineapple slices over direct heat on the grill or in a heavy-bottomed frying pan. Allow to cool and then cut into ½cm/¼ inch chunks. Combine with the other ingredients and chill until needed
Quick Yucatan style Pink Pickled Onions
- 2 red onions, peeled, halved and sliced
- ½ cup cider vinegar
- ¼ cup water
- ½ teaspoon demerara/muscavado sugar
- ½ teaspoon black peppercorns
- pinch of Mexican dried oregano
- pinch of sea salt
Quickly blanch the onion slices in boiling water for about 45 seconds. Drain and transfer to a non-reactive bowl. Add the other ingredients and stir to mix well. Let sit for a few hours until the onions turn bright pink
Coat the pig cheeks in rub and lightly pat in.
Light your smoker and bring it up to 250°F/120°C and add a couple of chunks of smoking wood. Hickory works really well with these cheeks.
When the smoke thins, add your pig cheeks to the grill and shut the lid. After an hour, add another chunk of wood and leave for another 90 minutes.
By this point, your cheeks should’ve developed a nice bark. Now you can decide whether to wrap or not. It’s entirely up to you – Wrapping will make the meat a bit softer and will of course speed up the cook a bit, (but as these are quite small pieces of meat anyway, the time difference is pretty negligible). It does give you the opportunity to add a bit more flavour though, so we chose to wrap with a bit of orange juice, a teaspoon of the rub and a couple of squeezes of Sriracha chilli sauce (not very Mexican, but tastes amazing! You could use any chilli sauce you like though)
Return to the smoker and cook for a further 90 mins.
Meanwhile, prepare the glaze by combining all of the ingredients in a pan and simmering for 10 mins until thickened.
Carefully unwrap your pig cheeks and drain some of the wrapping liquid into your glaze. Then using tongs, dip the cheeks in the glaze to coat and return to the smoker for 45 mins to an hour, basting with more glaze a couple of times.
Finishing temp should be around 195°F/90°C or when the cheeks give a little when pressed with a fork. They should be tender, but still have a bit of resistance.
Leave to rest for half an hour and then tear each cheek into 2 to 3 chunks.
Warm your tortillas in a dry pan and then begin to build your taco.
Using a teaspoon, spread a little of the Salsa Roja or Chipotle paste if you’re using, on the top of the warmed tortilla. Add a spoonful of the burnt pineapple salsa (or your favourite salsa) and then top with your chunks of pig cheek.
Garnish with the pink pickled onions and some fresh coriander.