Cheek Meat Tacos (with Salsa Fresca)

See this?

This has been sitting in the freezer for a couple of months now. It’s 1.3 pounds of pork cheek meat. Beautiful stuff. I got this as part of my 50-lb meat pack and I knew exactly what I wanted to make with it, pork cheek tacos. It just took me a little while to get around to making it.

I had several cheek meat recipes flagged but I ended up adapting And Lashings of Ginger Beer’s recipe since it sounded closest to what I had in my head. I also liked the Salsa Fresca recipe since it’s very similar to the one I make at home. Only difference was the use of cherry tomatoes versus Romas. Quite frankly, I’m loving the use of chopped cherry tomatoes for tacos. The sweetness of the cherry tomatoes came through (sometimes Romas just lack the tomato-ey goodness, you know?) and really complimented the taco.

We tried other toppings as well, pickled onions and jarred (gasp!) green salsa but both overpowered the shredded meat. The picture were the three medley (left to right): jarred salsa verde, pickled red onions, salsa fresca (Roma tomato version).

Let me just say how addictive these tacos were. We loved it so much that I went on a hunt for more cheek meat. I went to two different Mexican grocery stores up in Escondido and was able to find beef cheek meat. Using the same ingredients and method, the beef cheek meat turned out just as delicious although it had a bit more gristle than the pork cheek meat. I think it was attributed to the quality of cheek meat. The beef cheeks had substantially more fat and connective tissue, the majority of which I removed. Anyway, even if you can’t find cheek meat or don’t want cheek meat, you can probably use whatever meat you want. I think short ribs, pork shoulder, stew meat, any meat good for braising would work.

One of the things that I added to the recipe was roasted red bell pepper and roasted Pasilla chile pepper. I roasted these over my gas burner but you can roast them over any live fire source (gas or charcoal grill works great). But you can also roast them in the oven using the broil function. You can do a search for how to roast peppers or check out eHow here for their instructions.

Here are my peppers just after I roasted them. I didn’t roast the red bell peppers until it was completely blacken, well, because I was lazy. But you can see that the Pasilla pepper peel was pretty much all blackened.

Here they are steaming away. I let them sit for about 20 minutes before I removed the peels, seed core and ribs.

Here is the pork cheek meat, simmering to a thick rich pot of goodness. See the specks of red bell pepper and Pasilla peppers? This just after I had shredded the meat. Look at how much liquid is still left! Those cast iron pots really keeps the moisture in. It took about 30 minutes to reduce down the liquid from this batch.

Here’s a shot of the beef cheek meat filling. You can see some of the red bell peppers in there. The Pasilla peppers aren’t as apparent since it almost dissolves into the mixture. Delicious.

When I picked up the beef cheek meat, I also picked up a back of small corn tortillas from Vallarta. The bags had just come out, freshly made, everyday.

I think it was Dennis that once asked what my favorite brand of tortillas were. I think this is my favorite brand now.  It takes a little longer to heat up since it’s thicker than those mass-produced brands (you know, the crappy “Mission” kind that breaks apart with any kind of bending).

Leftover meat mixture can be kept in the fridge for a week. Just nuke and serve. Oh so good!

Cheek Meat Tacos
 
 

Adapted from “And Lashings of Ginger Beer”
Ingredients
For Shredded Meat
  • 1 roasted red bell pepper, peeled and seeded, chopped
  • 1 roasted Pasilla pepper, peeled and seeded, chopped
  • 1½ tablespoons olive oil
  • 1½ lb pork (or beef) cheeks, cut into large pieces
  • 1 large onion, chopped finely
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ⅓ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon chili flakes (optional)
  • Broth or water, enough to cover meat
For Salsa Fresca:
  • 1 small basket of cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • ⅓ red onion, chopped
  • 1 Serrano or Jalapeno chili, seeded and deveined, minced
  • ¼ cup Cilantro leaves, chopped
  • Juice from 1 lime
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions
For Meat:
  1. If using oven method, pre-heated to 300 degrees F and that the pot you are using is oven safe.
  2. In a large heavy-based saucepan over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add pork and lightly brown all the sides, about 5 minutes. Don’t crowd the pot, do it in batches if necessary. Remove the pork and set aside, leaving the excess oil and any burnt bits in the pan.
  3. Add remaining ½ tablespoon of olive oil to pot, add onion and garlic. Cook until translucent.
  4. Return the pork to the pot, add roasted peppers, bay leaf, cinnamon, cumin, chili flakes, vinegar and tomato paste. Once mixture begins to bubble, turn the heat to low (simmer). Add broth so that it almost-but-not-quite covers the pork. Put the lid on and simmer for at least 2 hours, stirring every 20-30 minutes.
  5. If using oven method, put covered pot into oven and cook for at least 2 hours, stirring every 30-40 minutes.
  6. I never had a problem with the meat mixture drying out during cooking but if you find that your mixture is drying out at any time using whichever method, if the mixture drying out at any time, add ½ cup of water. I’ve never had a problem with the pot drying out during cooking but if you find that the meat mixture is drying out at any time, add an additional ½ cup of broth or water.
  7. You’ll know when the meat is done when you can press on the meat with a spoon and it falls apart easily. Take it off the stove (out of the oven) and shred the meat in the pot. You can use a couple of forks but I just use a wooden spoon and press the meat apart.
  8. Put the pot on the stove and using low heat, cook and stir to reduce the pork-sauce a little so that it darkens and thickens. Cooking time will depend on how much sauce is left and how thick you want it. I usually let it simmer for another 30 minutes but you can speed it up by using medium heat. Salt and pepper to taste.
  9. While the pork cooks, put together the salsa fresca.
For Salsa Fresca:
  1. Mix first 5 ingredients together in a bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Easy, right?

 

4 Comments

    • Hi CC! Yeah, he finally had some time to fix the kinks out. So guess I’ve got some catching up to do. :-)

      I love this recipe, even if it doesn’t have the roasted peppers in them. I think you’d like this one.

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