Slow cooked pork cheeks are a Spanish secret that I can’t believe we hadn’t discovered before a recent trip to Sevilla, Spain. We had ordered Cola de Toro, which is a braised oxtail that is cooked until it’s falling apart, at a small but well-reviewed tapas restaurant. The waiter explained to us that if we liked the oxtail, we really needed to try the “carrilladas” which were far superior.
Not knowing the unfamiliar Spanish word, I asked him what they were. He tried to explain, and finally pointed to his own face and tapped on his cheek. A word of advice: when a waiter in any restaurant enthusiastically explains how much he loves a dish, just order it. Which is what we did. And we were not disappointed.
The carrilladas arrived a few minutes later, chunks of meat smothered under a dark, rich sauce. The meat was so tender that it fell apart at the touch of a fork, and the flavor was meaty deliciousness. The luscious pork just melted in our mouths. We were now hooked on this traditional Spanish dish.
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This is an unusual cut of meat in some parts of the world, and as a result, if you can find them, they are usually very cheap. Don’t let that stop you – they are incredibly tender and flavorful. You should be able to to go to your local butcher a request them.
We’ve read about other chefs who’ve discovered the cut of meat who (somewhat) guiltily buy up the entire butcher’s supply whenever they find them.
Unlike many other slow-cook recipes, the cheeks cook relatively quickly. In this version they are simmered in a sauce featuring red wine, beef broth spiked with sweet paprika and cinnamon.
The carrilladas should be tender and bathing in a rich dark sauce in about two hours. It’s best to serve with bread or mashed potatoes, so you can soak up all of the delicious sauce. Finally, beef cheeks can be substituted for pork.
Ultimate Spanish Tapas Menu
Carrilladas are a perfect part of our Ultimate Spanish Tapas Menu. We recommend following the recipes below, including our popular sangria recipe, for a perfect Tapas Party. Add some crusty bread, aged Spanish cheese and cured ham, and a few friends.
- 2 tbsp olive oil (for frying)
- 1 large onion (finely chopped)
- 1 1/2 pounds (700 g) pork cheeks (excess fat trimmed and cut in half)
- 1 tbsp flour (seasoned with salt and pepper)
- 3 garlic cloves (crushed)
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1/2 cup (118 ml) dry red wine
- 2 cups (473 ml) beef stock
- Heat 1 – 2 tbsp olive oil in a large pan then add the onion.
- Cook gently for 10 — 15 minutes until softened and lighty coloured. Remove and set aside.
- Toss the cheeks in the seasoned flour. Add a little more oil to the pan and turn up the heat.
- Brown the pork cheeks all over in batches, setting them aside when browned. Turn the heat down to medium.
- Return all the pork and the onions to the pan. Add the garlic, cumin and paprika and cinnamon, and cook for a minute.
- Pour in the wine. Use your spoon to scrape the bottom of the pan.
- Pour in the beef stock then bring the pan to a simmer.
- Simmer gently for 2 hours or until the cheeks are tender.
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