Belgium is a small country. A very small country, in fact. Unfortunately it’s also a country that’s divided in three big regions. Four if you includes the small German region. Politically, economically and linguistic, there are differences between the region of Wallonie, Flanders and Brussels. Some political parties and newspapers, however, exaggerates sometimes these differences. Differences or not, there are three things that unite our country: beer, frites and stew. These three things are a perfect match. Remember the event that I organized with the Tour of Flanders cycling race a couple of months ago (link).

For a friend of my girlfriend her birthday party I promised to make a delicious stew of Pork Cheeks with Westmalle Dubbel, a dark, reddish-brown Trappist beer with a secondary fermentation in the bottle.

What do you need? (7 à 8 serves) 2,7 Kg Pork Cheeks; 5 to 8 slices of gingerbread spread with grain mustard; 3 sprigs of thyme; 3 laurel leaves; 8-10 cloves; 2 sprigs of parsley; butter; 75 Cl Westmalle Dubbel; 300 ml calf stock, some teaspoons of dark brown sugar; pepper; salt; 2-3 onions.

In fact making this stew is really easy. The only thing you need, is a bit of patience. Indeed, it takes a bit of time to make it. A big advantage, however, is that you can make it the day before. It’s even recommended to make it in advance, so the flavors are better. Why do you have to be patient? The first reason is that you have to clean the cheeks. The second one is that it has to simmer for about 4 to 5 hours. Let me first explain the first reason. Remove carefully the silver skin, the cartilage and the fat of all the cheeks. I know it’s a lot of work, but believe me, your meat will be more tender. It’s not easy for the first time, I know. The best advice I can give you is trial by error and the use of a very sharp knife.

To give you an idea, it took me about 40 minutes to remove everything. I threw away 0,5 Kg of fat and skin.

If you finished this little dirty job, you can start chopping the onions. Chop the cheeks half-wise  Take a very big pot. Melt the butter and fry the onions. Add the cheeks bit by bit. At once would be too much. Fry them well till brown on both sides. Pour half of the bottle Westmalle and the stock in the pot. Add the herbs, the cloves and finish with the gingerbread on top of it. Bring to the boil and return to the simmer.

Let it simmer for about 3 to 5 hours. You will notice that the stew thickens. If it wouldn’t thicken enough, you can always add a slice of bread or gingerbread. Don’t forget that the longer the stew simmers, the more tender the meat will be. Test the tenderness of the cheeks by pulling at them with two forks. Season well to taste with pepper, salt, a bit of brown beer, brown sugar and grain mustard. Keep the stew aside for one night. Add a bit of beer just before serving.

The best way to eat it, is with homemade mayonaise and homemade “Belgian fries”. Don’t forget to drink a dark beer with it. Good luck! I just read the the American ambassador, Mr. Howard Gutman that Obama would (maybe) visit Belgium in the next four years. If he ever would do, he’s more than welcome to come over and try it at my place. Imagine…

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