These pork cheeks are tender and juicy, with a pleasant but spicy black pepper aroma — a perfect main dish to go with a bowl of steamed rice, mashed potatoes, or a fresh green salad. In my village back in Cambodia, this recipe is a lunch or dinner staple among home cooks (if they’re lucky enough to get their hands on this delicate cut of pork). We’ll eat these fried pork cheeks with steamed rice, veggies like lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, and a spicy dipping sauce.
Outside of Cambodia, the main challenge in preparing this recipe is finding the pork cheeks. They’re less of a common cut than pork jowl, and you may have to check several butchers before you come across them. That said, the recipe itself is simple: all you need is some quality black pepper (use Kampot pepper, if you have it) and some basic Asian seasonings. All of these are readily available in US supermarkets.
Fried Pork Cheeks With Black Pepper
- 1 Wok A skillet works, too
- 1 Chef's knife
- 1 Cutting board
- 1 Mortar and pestle Alternatively, use a blender
- 1 lb Pork cheeks
- 5-6 Cilantro stems use stems only, not the leaves
- 7 cloves Garlic
- 1 tbsp Black peppercorns
- 1 tsp Sugar
- ½ tsp MSG
- 1 tbsp Oyster sauce
- 1 tsp Fish sauce
- 2 tbsp Cooking oil
- 2 stalks Green onions
- Cut the pork cheeks into 2" x 1" pieces (or smaller) and set aside
- Chop green onions and set aside
- Chop cilantro stems into ½-inch pieces and place into mortar
- Pound the garlic, black peppercorns, and cilantro stems in a mortar
- Heat the cooking oil in a wok over medium-high heat. Then, add the garlic, cilantro, and pepper paste to the hot oil and fry until the garlic turns golden-brown
- Add the pork cheeks to the wok and fry, stirring often
- Add fish sauce, sugar, MSG, and oyster sauce, and stir everything
- Continue frying until the pork is cooked, about 15 minutes in total. Then, remove from heat, sprinkle green onions on top, then serve!
What is a pork cheek?
Pork cheek is an inexpensive cut of pork that consists of flesh in the cheek of a pig. It’s a lean cut that’s still rich in flavor. In fact, pork cheeks have a richer taste than many other pork cuts because of the high level of muscle usage in that area.
Despite its leanness, though, pork cheek has quite a bit of marbling. This fat melts as you cook it and gives the meat more juiciness, tenders, and flavor.
Its cost-efficiency, intense flavor, and tenderness make pork cheek a popular choice in many cuisines around the world. For example, in Italy, pork cheek is usually cured and known as ‘guanciale’. Spanish chefs use pork cheek extensively in stews, while home cooks in Cambodia, Thailand, and elsewhere in Asia prepare various stir fries with this pork cut.
Pork cheek vs pork jowl
You may have heard pork cheek being referred to as “pork jowl,” and in a sense, this is correct — both cuts come from a pig’s face. However, the cheek comes from right beneath the pig’s eye, and is the leaner cut, whereas jowl is cut from under the animal’s jaw, and has a much higher fat content. Despite this difference, both are versatile cuts with plenty of flavor. You can braise, grill, sear, or stir-fry pork cheek and jowl with seriously mouthwatering results.
Where to find pork cheek
You may have trouble finding pork cheek at a regular supermarket, so your best bet is to head to a local butcher. The cut may be popular globally, but home cooks in North America generate more demand for the more familiar cuts, like pork chops, tenderloin, or ribs. These are the pork cuts you’ll find in any large supermarket in the US. Seeing pork cheeks at a chain supermarket, on the other hand, is a rarity. That said, any butcher worth their salt will have pork cheek — and plenty of it — at a lower price than the more common pork cuts.
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