Have you ever tried pork cheeks? Before you start to get all skeeved out: don’t. Because they’re one of the most wonderful, tender and tasty cuts of pork out there. And pork cheeks make ridiculously amazing stew, for a whole bunch of reasons.
Why I’m lovin’ the pork cheeks lately:
- they are paradoxically really lean and yet meltingly tender
- they’re packed full of collagen, which is wondrous for you nutritionally and for the making of a silky smooth stew
- unlike standard stew meat, there’s none o’ that gristly stuff to sneakily dispose of in your napkin or surreptitiously pick out of your teeth
- they’re inexpensive and even more economical because you can eat the whole darn things
- did I mention they make the BEST stew ever? They do.
Pork cheeks really lend themselves to a nice, cuddly time braising in the oven, getting all so-tender-I-can’t-believe-it while you’re off hopefully doing relaxing Sunday things. At least, that’s my kind of Sunday. That kind of dreamy slow cooking that doesn’t need much hands on time, but fills your home with the sort of cooking-in-progress smells that reminds me of grandma. But if you’re not really in the mood for reminiscing about grandma and want to make a ridiculously delicious stew a little faster, you need to whip out your Instant Pot.
Do you have an Instant Pot? I’m somewhat in love with mine, since it’s pretty much an electric, electronic pressure cooker on crack. I picked up my 7-in-1 model when it was on sale for just under a hundred bucks, figuring that it would make broth making so much quicker and less attention-needed than my stovetop method. It definitely delivers on that front, making rich, nourishing broth in 2 hours, which, honestly, makes it worth the price alone. Especially when I take into account just how much broth I go through in a week for making breakfast soup. But it’s also super handy for a whole bunch of other things, especially speeding up traditional, long braising time recipes. Instead of taking 3 hours to slow cook me some pork cheeks, I can get them done in 45 minutes. Winning!
So here’s my Instant Pot Pork Cheek Stew recipe. It’s simple, hearty and nourishing, plus it makes a big batch that just gets better and better the longer it sits, making for tasty lunches and leftovers throughout the week. The pork cheeks break down into perfectly succulent mouthfuls and the smooth gravy makes this meal pure comfort food. The best part? All that good-for-you collagen breaks down as the pork cheeks cook and makes its way into the veggie packed gravy, giving it a delectable mouthfeel and thickening it without needing to add any weird, expensive gluten free flours. If you’re on the fence about pork cheeks (or the Instant Pot), give this recipe a whirl! Oh, and don’t skip the lemon juice at the end – it adds a lovely freshness to the umami filled gravy and balances all the flavors out perfectly.Print
Pork Cheek Stew
- 4 lbs / 1.8 kg pork cheeks
- 2 tbsp / 30 ml avocado oil or lard
- 1 1/2 cups / 360 ml pork or chicken broth
- 8 oz / 225 g white or cremini mushrooms
- 1 large leek, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
- 1 small onion, diced
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 tsp / 5 g fine sea salt
- Juice of 1 1/2 lemons
- SEAR: Pat the pork cheeks dry with some paper towel, then trim off any loose pieces of fat. Cut the pork cheeks into 2 x 3 inch / 5 x 7.5 cm pieces so that they’re evenly sized. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the fat of your choice. Working in batches, sear the pork cheek pieces until they are golden brown on both sides, then transfer them to the insert of the Instant Pot. You can use the “sear” function of the Instant Pot if you would like, but it will take much longer to get all the pieces done, so I prefer to just dirty up a large cast iron skillet.
- PRESSURE COOK: Pour the broth over the browned pork cheeks, then add the mushrooms, leek, onion, garlic and sea salt. Check the rubber seal is in place on the lid, that the shield is in place, that the float valve moves freely and that the weight is set to the “sealing” position. Pop the lid on and lock it into the closed position. Use the “Meat and Stews” setting to pressure cook for 45 minutes, until the meat is fork tender.
- BLEND: Carefully turn the weight to the “venting” position so that the pressure is quickly released. Remove the pork cheek pieces to a chopping board and use two forks to gently shred them into bite size pieces. Carefully transfer the cooked vegetables and all of the cooking liquid from the Instant Pot to a large blender and add the lemon juice. Make sure that the blender is large enough to handle 5 cups / 1.2 l of hot liquid, making sure to leave part of the lid open to allow steam to escape when blending, covered with a kitchen towel if needed. Blend until you have a smooth, sauce like consistency, then taste and add any extra salt, if needed.
- SERVE: Transfer both the shredded meat and the blended liquid to the insert of the Instant Pot and stir through to combine into a silky smooth stew. You can either serve it immediately, or pop the insert back into the Instant Pot and use the “warm” setting to keep it hot until you’re ready to serve.
Where do you get Pork Cheeks? I bought a pack of Pig’s Jowl thinking it was the same thing but google is telling me its not?
Jowl is the same part of the pig, but has usually already been cured and smoked, like Italian guanciale. I get pork cheeks from a couple of different butchers – while I have found beef cheeks at Sam’s / Costco, I’ve never come across pork cheeks in grocery stores yet!
If I can’t find pork cheeks, is there another cut of meat you might recommend?
You could try pork shoulder / butt, since that holds up to low and slow cooking, but you won’t get all the collagen-goodness without the cheeks! You could try adding in a little bloomed gelatin to the stew liquid at the end, or use a little arrowroot mixed with some water to thicken, if you like 🙂
Hi, you could look to other heavily-worked areas of the body: shanks and neck/collar are good ones to replace cheeks. Don’t confuse jowls with cheeks. Cheeks are the masseter muscle and, while it is sometimes attached to the jowl, the jowl contains the surrounding fat and some streaks of muscle. Cheeks are lean; jowls are fatty.
Hi Adam, this is really interesting, thanks for stopping by to share your knowledge. Your comment leads me to believe that often when I’ve purchased pork cheeks, I’ve perhaps been getting jowl, since there is sometimes that fat to trim as you described. Would the same be true of beef cheeks? The ones that I’ve been able to buy in the past often have a larger central muscle and then other, smaller and fattier pieces connected to them. Thanks again!
Beef cheeks are the same muscle and sometimes will have some fatty deposits on them. Another thing to look for in trimming is any remnants of the salivary glands, which look like small gland-colored (tan, brown, etc) dots. In reality, both cheeks should be just lean muscle, with very little intramuscular fat (marbling) in them.
I’ve never come across the salivary glands to the best of my knowledge, but any time I’ve bought beef cheeks, they’ve required an inordinate amount of trimming, often losing up to 50% of the original weight. I don’t mind so much because I like to explore “other” cuts as often as I can, to honor the animal, avoid waste and hopefully show businesses out there that there IS interest in the now non-traditional (yet ironically traditional!) cuts and organs. I can almost always find a use even for those “surprise” pieces! Thanks for answering my question, Adam, I really appreciate it.
Rach, it sounds like you may be interested in investigating meat even further and delving into the underlying science of what happens to meat, the various cuts, and other muscle profiling information, along with butchery info. I have a couple books that I wrote. You can check them out at my website. If you’re interested, you can get signed copies through there as well.
I’ve had luck with Italian and Japanese butchers. The former gave me the whole pig cheek, so had to do some butchering myself. Nothing too tricky. But there’s not a lot of meat (the “oyster”) there, so you’ll need to buy a few cheeks or more depending on how many you’re cooking for. Pig jowls are far less tasty – tough and tasteless by comparison. Happy eats!
I purchased an Instant Pot just to try this recipe, though I’ve been after a pressure cooker for a bit anyway. Made the dish on Saturday and it was delicious. I’ve never had pork cheeks but they are delicious so will be buying more. So tender. This dish itself is very tasty. I used Chestnut mushrooms which give a nutty flavour. The only thing I’ve found is the leftovers are a bit watery when reheated. Nothing too much that a bed of cauliflower rice won’t soak up! I asked my hubby if he wanted to know the meat and he looked at me with wide eyes and said, “No.” So I won’t tell ‘im. More instant pot recipes please!
That’s strange about it being “watery”, I’ve never found that – the photos in the post are actually from it reheated the next day. Hmm. If you don’t mind, I guess it’s no big deal, but if you wanted, you could add a little arrowroot starch made up into a slurry with a little water and add that when it’s reheating on the stove. Glad you enjoyed it, anyhow! 🙂 My husband is the same way, to the point that I’m not allowed to tell him if I make beef tongue, I have to just call it “shredded beef”, ha!
Not sure if you’ll see this as it is now May, but this looks delicious. I was wondering what you are serving this beautiful stew on that looks like mashed potatoes. Thanks!
It’s a white sweet potato mash 🙂 They can be tricky to find, depending where you live, so you could also try serving the stew over orange mashed sweets or for something less sweet, try the Herbed Whipped Parsnips or Parsnip Carrot Mash with Lemon & Thyme recipes from the blog. Hope that helps!