You may have found yourself at a restaurant where the waiter tries selling you on the cheek of the whole roasted fish he has just brought to your table, or at a butcher shop where the butcher tries convincing you of the merits of the beef cheek. Next time this happens, don't be alarmed, be thankful. The cheek meat really is some of the best meat on the animal -- be it halibut or a pig. An often overlooked cut, cheeks are where it's at.
Cheek meat, the small cut of meat in the hollow of an animal's cheek (if that wasn't already obvious enough) is uniquely lean and tender. While most cuts can often be one or the other -- lean but dry or tender but fatty -- those little cuts of cheek are both. As fans of "nose-to-tail" eating here, we at HuffPost Taste are strong proponents of the cheek.
If you're hesitant, chef, photographer and food personality Marc Matsumoto breaks down the merits of cheek meat in a recipe for Japanese Chashu, a slow-cooked pork that often appears over ramen:
Pork cheek is porcine perfection, taking the best qualities of a tasty cut like shoulder and marbling in a lattice of fat between the pink strands meat. When braised, the pieces of meat are almost imperceptibly suspended in a mesh of fat, that instantly liquefies when it enters your warm mouth.
Or you can explore cheeks for yourself in a variety of other ways, from beef cheek poutine to pork cheek ragù and Sichuan braised pork cheeks. You could try halibut cheeks with ginger-orange sauce or cod cheeks with mussels, chorizo and chickpeas. Guanciale, pork jowl or cheek, is a staple in Italian cooking, appearing in dishes like spaghetti carbonara.
If you need any more inspiration, here are 15 recipes that will convince you that it's time to start eating more cheeks.