Cheeky Porky – Grilled Succulent Pork Cheek rubbed with Sichuan Peppercorn
Pork jowl, which is often called an assortment of names ranging from cheek to neck, is the precious piece of finely marbled meat found at the sides of a porky piggie’s face. These precious slices are unlike any other part of the pig in terms of texture and flavour, and is really a diamond in the rough – that is, once you learn how to polish it. Finding this at a butcher’s is always a happy treat, and although considered a “cheap” cut of meat, it is, in my humble belief, one of the choice cuts of the pig. On the eerie side, whenever I think about cooking with animal cheeks, I’m reminded of Hannibal Lector saying “the best part of any animal is the cheek”, although his had a much more gruesome connotation…
Grilled pork cheeks (or neck) can often be found on Thai restaurant menus, and is a favourite of The Mister. So when I saw these rare beauties at the supermarket, I greedily snapped up a couple to try out my own recipe at home. Thai recipes usually call for marinating in a concoction of fish sauce, coriander and chilli. However, I wanted to stray from the predictable and dreamed up this recipe based on the flavours I love. Here is my preferred way of cooking pork cheek, by seasoning with numbing, flowery crushed Sichuan pepper, and pungent garlic.
What You’ll Need (serves 2):
- 2 pork cheeks
- 2 tbls light soy sauce
- 1/2 tbls sweet rice vinegar
- 1/2 tbls mirin (optional)
- 1/2 tbls crushed Sichuan peppercorn
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- lettuce leaves (for wrapping)
- lime wedges for garnish
Prep Time: 5 minutes (although please allow 5 hours for marination)
Cook Time: 7 minutes
Start by marinating the pork cheeks in light soy, garlic, crushed peppercorns, mirin and sweet vinegar. Pork cheeks are quite thin so won’t need too long for marinating, but I’d just leave them to soak up the flavours in the fridge during the day.
After a few hours (preferably 5-7 hours), take the pork cheeks out and leave them on the kitchen counter to come to room temperature. This will take about 10 minutes or so. When grilling meat, it’s important to bring the meat to room temperature beforehand so that the entire piece cooks evenly.
Heat up a cast-iron pan on high – this will help sear and caramelise the cheeks while maintaining the juiciness within. It’ll take around 3-4 minutes on each side, so a total of around 7-8 minutes. Since it’s pork, you’d want to cook it fully.
While the pork is cooking on the grill, wash up some lettuce leaves for the side and cut a few lime wedges to adorn the plate.
Voila! Dinner is served in under 10 minutes! I also pan-fried a few slices of mantou (Chinese steamed buns) and dusted the golden slices in flaky sea salt to add a more substantial carbo boost to the meal.
Wrapping the juicy pork slices in crisp lettuce is my favourite way of eating this dish! Something about the crunch of refreshing lettuce paired with the decadence of the pork really works.
The Money Shot!!! Bon Appetit everyone!!!