Cheek Meat Tacos (with Salsa Fresca)

July 1, 2012 § 4 Comments

See this?

This has been sitting in the freezer for a couple of months now. It’s 1.3 pounds of pork cheek meat. Beautiful stuff. I got this as part of my 50-lb meat pack and I knew exactly what I wanted to make with it, pork cheek tacos. It just took me a little while to get around to making it.

I had several cheek meat recipes flagged but I ended up adapting And Lashings of Ginger Beer’s recipe since it sounded closest to what I had in my head. I also liked the Salsa Fresca recipe since it’s very similar to the one I make at home. Only difference was the use of cherry tomatoes versus Romas. Quite frankly, I’m loving the use of chopped cherry tomatoes for tacos. The sweetness of the cherry tomatoes came through (sometimes Romas just lack the tomato-ey goodness, you know?) and really complimented the taco.

We tried other toppings as well, pickled onions and jarred (gasp!) green salsa but both overpowered the shredded meat. The picture were the three medley (left to right): jarred salsa verde, pickled red onions, salsa fresca (Roma tomato version).

Let me just say how addictive these tacos were. We loved it so much that I went on a hunt for more cheek meat. I went to two different Mexican grocery stores up in Escondido and was able to find beef cheek meat. Using the same ingredients and method, the beef cheek meat turned out just as delicious although it had a bit more gristle than the pork cheek meat. I think it was attributed to the quality of cheek meat. The beef cheeks had substantially more fat and connective tissue, the majority of which I removed. Anyway, even if you can’t find cheek meat or don’t want cheek meat, you can probably use whatever meat you want. I think short ribs, pork shoulder, stew meat, any meat good for braising would work.

One of the things that I added to the recipe was roasted red bell pepper and roasted Pasilla chile pepper. I roasted these over my gas burner but you can roast them over any live fire source (gas or charcoal grill works great). But you can also roast them in the oven using the broil function. You can do a search for how to roast peppers or check out eHow here for their instructions.

Here are my peppers just after I roasted them. I didn’t roast the red bell peppers until it was completely blacken, well, because I was lazy. But you can see that the Pasilla pepper peel was pretty much all blackened.

Here they are steaming away. I let them sit for about 20 minutes before I removed the peels, seed core and ribs.

Here is the pork cheek meat, simmering to a thick rich pot of goodness. See the specks of red bell pepper and Pasilla peppers? This just after I had shredded the meat. Look at how much liquid is still left! Those cast iron pots really keeps the moisture in. It took about 30 minutes to reduce down the liquid from this batch.

Here’s a shot of the beef cheek meat filling. You can see some of the red bell peppers in there. The Pasilla peppers aren’t as apparent since it almost dissolves into the mixture. Delicious.

When I picked up the beef cheek meat, I also picked up a back of small corn tortillas from Vallarta. The bags had just come out, freshly made, everyday.

I think it was Dennis that once asked what my favorite brand of tortillas were. I think this is my favorite brand now.  It takes a little longer to heat up since it’s thicker than those mass-produced brands (you know, the crappy “Mission” kind that breaks apart with any kind of bending).

Leftover meat mixture can be kept in the fridge for a week. Just nuke and serve. Oh so good!

Cheek Meat Tacos
Adapted from “And Lashings of Ginger Beer”
  • For Shredded Meat
  • 1 roasted red bell pepper, peeled and seeded, chopped
  • 1 roasted Pasilla pepper, peeled and seeded, chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 lb pork (or beef) cheeks, cut into large pieces
  • 1 large onion, chopped finely
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes (optional)
  • Broth or water, enough to cover meat
  • For Salsa Fresca:
  • 1 small basket of cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1/3 red onion, chopped
  • 1 Serrano or Jalapeno chili, seeded and deveined, minced
  • 1/4 cup Cilantro leaves, chopped
  • Juice from 1 lime
  • salt and pepper to taste
For Meat:
  1. If using oven method, pre-heated to 300 degrees F and that the pot you are using is oven safe.
  2. In a large heavy-based saucepan over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add pork and lightly brown all the sides, about 5 minutes. Don’t crowd the pot, do it in batches if necessary. Remove the pork and set aside, leaving the excess oil and any burnt bits in the pan.
  3. Add remaining 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil to pot, add onion and garlic. Cook until translucent.
  4. Return the pork to the pot, add roasted peppers, bay leaf, cinnamon, cumin, chili flakes, vinegar and tomato paste. Once mixture begins to bubble, turn the heat to low (simmer). Add broth so that it almost-but-not-quite covers the pork. Put the lid on and simmer for at least 2 hours, stirring every 20-30 minutes.
  5. If using oven method, put covered pot into oven and cook for at least 2 hours, stirring every 30-40 minutes.
  6. I never had a problem with the meat mixture drying out during cooking but if you find that your mixture is drying out at any time using whichever method, if the mixture drying out at any time, add 1/2 cup of water. I’ve never had a problem with the pot drying out during cooking but if you find that the meat mixture is drying out at any time, add an additional 1/2 cup of broth or water.
  7. You’ll know when the meat is done when you can press on the meat with a spoon and it falls apart easily. Take it off the stove (out of the oven) and shred the meat in the pot. You can use a couple of forks but I just use a wooden spoon and press the meat apart.
  8. Put the pot on the stove and using low heat, cook and stir to reduce the pork-sauce a little so that it darkens and thickens. Cooking time will depend on how much sauce is left and how thick you want it. I usually let it simmer for another 30 minutes but you can speed it up by using medium heat. Salt and pepper to taste.
  9. While the pork cooks, put together the salsa fresca.
For Salsa Fresca:
  1. Mix first 5 ingredients together in a bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Easy, right?

Spicy Garlic Dry-Fried Long Beans with Pork

March 27, 2012 § 7 Comments

I haven’t made any stir-fries in a while but on a recent trip to the store, I saw some long beans that looked good. I originally had planned on making green papaya salad with it but I never got around to getting the papaya. So instead, I made a dry-fried dish with it. I was actually surprised I’ve never posted on this dish before so I made an effort this time to actually take a picture of it before it was completely consumed.

This recipe can also be easily converted to a Sichuan dry-fried green beans dish, and it can be completely vegetarian, if you prefer. This is so good over a hot bowl of steamed white rice!

I love the addition of Sichuan preserved vegetable (zha cai), which actually is pickled mustard plant. You’ve probably eaten some of this before, like in Tan Tan Mein (dan dan noodles) or even niu rou mein. You can find it in most Asian markets. I like to buy the kind that’s already been cut into shreds since I think it tastes a little different than the whole vegetable. The can looks like this (the word “SHREDDED” is underneath in the “Preserved Vegetable”):


Even if you don’t want to add the preserved vegetable or can’t find it, this dish is still worth making.


  • 3/4 to 1 pound long beans (or substitute with green beans)
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 to 1/2 pound ground pork, depending on your preference)
  • 2 Tablespoons Sichuan preserved vegetable, finely chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon minced or grated ginger
  • 3 scallions, white parts only, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • salt to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper (optional)


  • 1/2 Tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
  • 1/2 Tablespoon chili bean sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon garlic chili paste (I use 2 Tbsp since I like it really spicy)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar


Rinse the green beans and dry them very well. Cut the ends off and then cut the beans into 2-inch lengths.

Prepare the sauce: stir together the wine, chili bean sauce, garlic chili paste, sesame oil, and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside.

Heat a large wok or skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat the sides. Add green beans and stir-fry for about 7 minutes, keeping the beans constantly moving. Stir-fry beans until the outsides begin to blister and the beans start to look wilted. The beans should not burn. Remove the green beans and set them on paper towels to drain.

Remove all but 1 tablespoon of oil and reheat the wok. Add ground pork and stir-fry until no more pink can be seen.

Add soy sauce, Sichuan preserved vegetable, red pepper flakes (optional), garlic, ginger, scallions and ground white pepper (optional),  stir-fry until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add sauce mixture and cook for another minute.

Add long beans back in and stir to combine everything. Adjust the seasoning with salt, if necessary. Serve hot with some steamed white rice.

Hong Kong Fried Noodles – Revisited

January 9, 2012 § 10 Comments

For New Year’s Day, I decided to make Hong Kong style fried noodles with seafood. The original post with the recipe can be found here. I’ve updated the recipe since that first time and I think the sauce is much better now. As with most stir-fry recipes, you can add just about any kind of protein and vegetables to this dish. I typically like to have at least shrimp and squid in this. But it’s great with  pork, beef, chicken, fish, even tofu.

I did a couple of things different this time. I blanched the noodles a few hours ahead and them laid out two (very large) servings on a baking sheet to dry out the noodles. I thought this might help with the frying of the noodles and although the noodles didn’t fry any faster, it did make the noodles more crunchy throughout.  The previous method left some of the noodles in the middle softer. So depending on whether you like crunchy noodles like I do or a mixture of soft and crunchy, pick the method to your liking.. Here are the fried noodle cakes resting. BTW, the majority of the pictures in this post was taken by the Mister. I was kind of up to my ears in prep so I asked him to be my photographer and just take pictures as he saw fit.

I decided to use some shrimp and baby squid this time, about a pound of shrimp (shelled and deveined) and about half a pound of baby squid, already cleaned. I had both seafood marinading together but in hindsight I should have done these two separately since the shrimp was so large, it took longer for them to cook through. I removed the squid from the wok as it cooked but was kind of a pain in the ass. Would have been much easier if I had thought it through in the beginning.

I also bought a humungo lobster from 99 Ranch (that sucker was 4.5 lbs), which I steamed ahead of time, which took about 30 minutes to steam. That big boy was going to be 2 meals! Here’s the size of the lobster tail, about 1 lb of meat. I saved that for our meal the next night. The meat in the bowl was all claw meat.

For the fried noodles, I used only claw meat. Here’s an action shot of the chaos of removing lobster meat. Most of the lobster shell is in the freezer for when I need to make some lobster stock.

I doubled the sauce ingredients on this one since I was doing 2 noodle cakes. Since I was going through all the trouble of de-meating the lobster, I wanted to make sure I had leftovers. Other things I had in this version were bok choy and shiitake mushrooms. I had sliced sweet onions but completely forgot to add those but we didn’t miss them.  Here’s the only shot I took, my plate. Yum!

This would have easily fed 4 hungry people but the leftovers made 2 delicious lunches for me! Dang, now I want some more…

Eggplant in Garlic Sauce

July 12, 2011 § 2 Comments

Yes, yet another eggplant post.  This one is also a Grace Young recipe from The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen. Since this recipe is very similar to Mrs. Chiang’s Szechuan Cookbook (out of print) recipe, both being Sichuan-style dishes, I decided to modify Young’s recipe a bit with more readily available ingredients. Both uses the chili garlic sauce (yum!) and the flavor between the two are very similar but I think I like this version a little better, probably because of the addition of vinegar. But I’ll take either on any given day. The ground pork can be substituted with ground beef or chicken. I’ve tried it with ground beef and it’s just as yummy.

This post is dedicated to Sandy. Another variant on the eggplant dish for you to try. 🙂

Adapted from Grace Young’s “The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen”


  • 1/2 lb ground pork
  • 1 lb Asian eggplants
  • 2 tablespoon chili garlic sauce
  • 2 tablespoon soy sauce (I used low sodium)
  • 2 tablespoon Black Vinegar (or substitute with 1 tablespoon white vinegar)
  • 2 tablespoon Shao Hsing wine
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 7 tablespoon vegetable oil (or more)
  • 2 tablespoon finely minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced ginger
  • 2 green scallions, chopped


Cut off the stem and ends of the eggplants. Cut the unpeeled eggplants lengthwise in half, then quarters. If the eggplants are thick, you might want to cut the quarters in half again so that each slice is about 1″ thick. Cut each slice to about 3″ lengths.

In a medium bowl, combine chili garlic sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, rice wine, sugar and water.

Heat wok or large skillet on high heat until hot but not smoking. Add 3 tablespoons of oil and half the eggplant, stir fry for 2 minutes until some of the eggplant begins to brown and soften. The eggplant will absorb all the oil very quickly. If eggplant starts to stick to wok, add a bit more oil. Transfer the eggplant to a plate. Repeat with remaining eggplant and another 3 tablespoons of oil. Set eggplant aside.

Add remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to wok. Add pork, garlic and ginger, stir fry until the meat has lost most of its pink color (about 2 minutes), break up the meat with spatula. Return eggplant to the wok. Swirl in the chili sauce mixture and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, cover wok and cook for 6-8 minutes or until the eggplant is tender. Stir occasionally to make sure all the eggplant pieces get equal cooking time. Stir in scallions and serve.

Stir-Fried Garlic Eggplant with Pork

June 28, 2011 § 5 Comments

One more recipe from Grace Young’s Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge. This time it’s eggplant and pork. The original recipe is okay but nothing spectacular. But add a bit of  this

And woo boy does this dish come alive!

Adapted from Grace Young’s Stir-frying to the Sky’s Edge
Paleo diet ingredient substitution in red.


  • 2 oz ground pork
  • 1 teaspoon +1/4 cup cooking oil (avocado oil)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic + 2 smashed garlic cloves
  • 3 (about 1 lb) medium Asian eggplants, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2″ thick slices
  • 1/4 cup Shao Hsing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 scallion, minced (reserve 2 teaspoons for marinade)
  • 1/4 cup Chicken broth (optional)


  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce (Tamari)
  • 1 teaspoon Chicken broth (or cold water)
  • 2 teaspoon minced scallion
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced ginger


  • 3 tablespoon soy sauce (Tamari)
  • 2 tablespoon Golden Mountain Seasoning Sauce (1 tablespoon fish sauce)
  • 1/4 cup Chicken broth (or cold water)


In a small bowl, combine pork and marinade ingredients. Stir until pork has absorbed all of the broth (liquid). In another small bowl, combine ingredients for sauce.

Heat a wok or heavy-bottomed skillet on high heat. Swirl in 1 teaspoon cooking oil (avocado oil) and add pork mixture. Stir fry for 30 seconds or until the pork is opaque and still slightly rare. Remove from wok and set aside.

Swirl in remaining 1/4 cup of oil. Add 1 tablespoon chopped garlic and stir fry for 10 seconds. Add eggplant and stir fry for 2 minutes. The eggplant will absorb all the oil and the flesh will change color. Swirl in rice wine and immediately cover the wok, reduce heat to medium and cook for 30-60 seconds.  Uncover and sprinkle sugar over eggplant. Swirl in sauce mixture and stir fry for 1 minute. Return the pork to the wok, cover and cook for 2 minutes or until almost all the liquid has been absorbed. Use a knife to check if the eggplant is just tender. If not, cover and cook again for another 1 minute. Uncover and stir fry for 15 seconds. If the eggplant is sticking to the bottom of the wok, add a couple of tablespoons (up to 4 tablespoons=1/4 cup) of the optional chicken broth. Add the 2 smashed garlic cloves, cover and remove the wok from the heat. Let sit for 1 minute or until the pork is cooked through. Sprinkle on remaining minced scallions and serve.

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the Pork category at CAB Cooks.