The inspiration for this dish began at Dickson's Farmstand Meats, which has become my butcher of choice in New York, not only for its dedication to selling humanely raised meats from local farmers, but also for the more esoteric cuts of meat that it sells. It was at Dickson's that I spotted a sign for pork cheeks, and, as is the case with most meats that I am utterly clueless about cooking, I could not resist purchasing a pound of them.
The one thing that I did know about pork cheeks was that they are a tough cut best suited to braising. However, it being mid-August, a heavy braised dish was not exactly tempting. I thought about making a pork cheek ragu, but that seemed too much within my comfort zone; I needed to do the pork cheeks some justice. Staying on the pasta path, I decided that a ravioli stuffed with braised pork cheek would be the perfect way to serve pork cheeks in the summer. The one problem was that I do not own a pasta maker. However, I remembered hearing that it was possible to make ravioli using wanton wrappers, and that is exactly what I did.
The results could not have been better. The braised pork cheeks required three hours of braising time before they were meltingly tender. Surprisingly, the delicate wanton wrappers were a pretty close substitute for freshly made pasta. To ensure that the pork cheeks kept the lead role in the dish, I topped the pasta with a simple brown butter sage sauce, which I brightened with lemon juice to pare down the richness of the pork. On my way home from the butcher, I had been worried about how I would manage to ruin the pork cheeks, but I can't imagine having them any better way.
Pork Cheek Ravioli with Brown Butter Sage Sauce
For the pork:
- 1 lb. boneless pork cheeks
- salt and pepper
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 carrot, finely diced
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
- 1/2 cup dry red wine
- 1/2 cup canned diced tomatoes with their juice
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
- 1/2 tsp dried red pepper flakes
- 20 wanton wrappers
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter
- 10 sage leaves
- juice from 1/2 lemon
- salt and pepper
- grated Pecorino Romano cheese, for serving
For the pork (can be made one day ahead):
- Preheat the oven to 275F.
- Pat the pork cheeks dry with paper towls. Season with salt and pepper.
- Heat the olive oil in a medium braising dish over medium-high heat. Add the pork cheeks without crowding (cook in batches if necessary), and saute until well-browned on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Set the pork cheeks aside on a plate.
- Reduce the heat to medium and add the garlic, carrot, and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften and begin to brown, 5 to 10 minutes.
- Add the wine and bring it to a boil. Reduce the wine by half, about 3 minutes.
- Pour in the tomatoes, stock, bay leaf, thyme, and pepper flakes. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the pork cheeks and any juices that have accumulated on the plate. Season the dish with salt and pepper.
- Cover the braising dish and place it in the oven. Cook, flipping the pork the until the the pork cheeks can be easily shredded with a fork, approximately 3 hours.
- Remove the pork cheeks from the braising dish and set them aside on a plate. If necessary, reduce the braising liquid so that it has almost a syrup-like consistency. Season with salt and pepper.
- Shred the pork cheeks with a fork and return to the braising liquid. Gently warm the dish prior to filling the ravioli.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Reduce the heat to a steady simmer (any more than a simmer will break the ravioli).
- Lay each of the wanton wrappers on a large flat surface. Using a brush or your finger, wet the edges of half of the wrappers.
- Place approximately 1 tbsp of the braised pork, with a bit of the braising liquid, on the ravioli with wet edges.
- Place the remaining wanton wrappers over the pork, forming the ravioli. Press down on the edges of each ravioli with your fingers to ensure that the edges stick together.
- Use a fork to press down on the edges of each ravioli to form ridges.
- Place the ravioli in the pot of simmering water one at a time to ensure that they do not stick. Cook until the ravioli float to the top of the water, approximately two minutes. Carefully remove each ravioli from the pasta water with a slotted spoon. Place 5 ravioli on each plate.
- As the ravioli cook, make the sauce by heating the butter over medium heat. Once the butter has melted and begins to brown, remove it from the heat. Stir in the sage leaves and lemon juice and taste for salt and pepper.
- Pour a few spoonfuls of the brown butter sage sauce over the ravioli. Top each plate with a small amount of grated Pecorino Romano. Serve immediately.