As we experience the last gasps of winter, take a road trip with a dish that has traveled from Wisconsin to New Orleans to Texas.
We at C&I have covered more than our fair share of steaks, game, smoked meats, and other hearty proteins and the restaurants, purveyors, and chefs who specialize in them. But perhaps none is more dear to me as the food editor than Steve McHugh and his San Antonio, Texas, charcuterie-focused restaurant, Cured in the historic Pearl Brewery complex turned into a mixed-use Alamo City gem. Shadowing him and his team over a weekend for an October 2014 feature was a surprising joy from start to finish. It began with the disarming introductory hug on the pristine lawn in front of Cured and ended with a 14-course meal.
McHugh and Cured showcase how the combination of food science nerd stuff and the old-ways-of-doings patience is a delectable way to respect tradition without eschewing the elements of modernity that work. That is at the heart of McHugh’s culinary outlook.
That’s just one reason why Cured is a regular stop whenever I visit San Antonio. Also, the food tastes dang good.
Slow-Cooked Pig Cheek Poutine
For the Braised Pig Cheeks
2 pounds pig cheek meat, cleaned of sinew
2 shallots, sliced
½ onion, large dice
2 stalks celery, large dice
1 medium carrot, large dice
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 bay leaf
2½ quarts dark chicken stock or ½ veal stock or chicken stock
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup canola oil
½ cup onions, diced
½ cup celery, diced
¼ cup green bell peppers, diced
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons Crystal Hot Sauce
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon onion powder
Black pepper, to taste
Salt, to taste
Celery salt, to taste
Cayenne pepper, to taste
In a heavy-bottomed pan, sear the pork cheeks until brown on both sides. Place cheeks in the pressure cooker and then add shallot, onion, celery, and carrot, and sauté until brown, then add tomato paste and sauté for 1 minute. Add to the pot with the tomato paste, garlic, bay leaf, and chicken stock. Cover and cook on high for 45 minutes.
While that is cooking, on a low temperature heat up the flour and oil to make a roux in a separate pot. Cook the roux until desired color has been met. Add the diced onions, celery, and bell peppers and cook for 5 minutes to remove water from vegetables. When cheeks are complete, carefully remove them from the broth and put broth through a strainer into the roux to thicken. Season with the remaining ingredients.
For the Frites
6 large Idaho potatoes
2 quarts peanut oil
Salt, to taste
Using two pots that will hold a gallon of liquid each, heat the oil in the first pot to 300 degrees and the second to 365 degrees. [Chef’s note: use a candy thermometer to help regulate. It will also keep you safe.] Cut the potatoes lengthwise into fries that are approximately ½-inch square and place them in water. When the first pot of oil is of temperature, add the fries ⅓ at a time to not overcrowd the pot. Blanch the fries for 2 minutes and place on a towel-lined plate. Repeat until all fries have been blanched
For the Okra Pickles*
1 pound fresh okra
6 tablespoons kosher salt
3 cups distilled vinegar
2 cups water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon pickling spice
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Rinse the okra under cold water. Combine the okra with half the salt and let sit. For the brine, combine the remaining salt, vinegar, water, sugar, and all spices and bring to a boil over medium heat. Rinse the okra again to remove the salt. Pour the brine over the okra and place in an ice-bath to cool as quickly as possible.
Pig cheek gumbo
2 cups cheese curds**
1 cup pickled okra
½ cup chopped fresh green onions
Preheat broiler on high. In four batches cook the fries in the oil set at 365 degrees carefully as not to overflow the pot. Place on towel-lined plate when golden brown, about 1 – 2 minutes. Once again use a candy thermometer. Salt the fries after each batch.
Place fries in an ovenproof dish or dishes and top with the pig cheek poutine and cheese curds. Place the dish in the broiler until cheese curds slightly melted. Pull from the oven and top with pickled okra and green onions. Enjoy!
**I prefer to add okra to this dish in the form of a pickle because it helps cut down on fat content
**I prefer cheddar because that’s what I grew up in Wisconsin eating
For more on Steve McHugh and Cured, read the October 2014 Western Gourmet feature.