Pork Cheek Ragu and Parmesan Grits

If you are lucky enough to find a butcher that sells pork cheeks but you have not tried them yet, you need to fix that soon.  This is one of the most perfect pieces of meat on the pig and it doesn’t get the love it deserves.  When cooked properly, the cheek portions melt into tender, silky, fall apart bites that is best compared to long braised short ribs.

I forgot to get a picture of this when it was done but instead have a picture of the cheeks prior to braising.

Pork Cheek Ragu and Parmesan Grits

Pork:

  • 2 pounds trimmed pork cheeks (if pork cheeks are unavailable, use boneless pork shoulder cut into 3″ chunks)
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon neutral high heat oil (grapeseed oil is great for this)
  • 1 large onion, rough chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup bold red wine (cab, zin, or merlot)
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon crushed red pepper
  • 2 sprigs oregano (1/2 tablespoon dried)
  • 4 sprigs thyme (1/2 tablespoon dried)
  • 2 sprigs rosemary (1/2 tablespoon dried)
  • 2 bay leaves

Grits

  • 1 cup stoneground grits
  • Kosher salt
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Handful chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Season pork with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium-high.  Sear the pork on all sides until evenly browned. Set aside.  Add onion to the pot and cook until the onion softens (5-7 minutes), then add the garlic. Stir until fragrant (about 1 minute) then add the tomato paste and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly darkened in color (about 4-5 minutes).  Add the wine and scrape up any browned bits and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly.

Add tomatoes, oregano, thyme, rosemary, bay leaves, crushed red pepper, 2 cups water, and the pork with any juices accumulated on the platter; season with salt and pepper. Bring the pot to a low boil, then cover and place in the oven for 2.5-3 hours.  You basically want it to go until the pork falls apart with the touch of a fork.

Taste and season with salt and pepper then recover and set aside.

Bring 2 teaspoons of salt and water to a boil in a medium pot. Whisking constantly, gradually add grits; reduce heat to medium-low.  Cook, whisking often, until grits are tender and creamy, 20–25 minutes (if grits becomes too thick, add more water if needed).  Add butter and Parmesan to grits and whisk until melted; season with salt and pepper.

Spoon grits into a bowl or onto a plate and top with chunks of pork and sauce.  Scatter parsley and more Parmesan over top and serve with a green salad or another veggie on the side.

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