One of the absolute joys of recent years is discovering the wonder of slow cooked beef and pork cheeks! Probably even five years ago, it might not be something we would choose to eat, but with the growing popularity in nose to tail eating and cooking, offal and many rediscovering how lovely slow cooking is (largely due to the rise in popularity of slow cookers again), they have started to crop up on restaurant menus and, if you are lucky enough to have access to a traditional butcher that still sells the less expensive cuts, in home kitchens too!
Beef Cheeks are a gift: the pack a punch flavour wise, give incredible yield of meat, are much more cost effective than a steak and also help in doing our bit to reduce waste when it comes to using all of the animal.
They are also a hard working muscle on the animal and so need long and slow cooking to break them down so we can access their incredible flavour and texture. Slow cooked, or braised, correctly, and the meat will do that thing where it just melts at a touch of a fork and feathers away.
I love cooking beef cheeks. I don’t own a slow cooker myself, so for me it is all about the slow braise with plenty of vegetables, herbs and red wine. The absolute best way to eat them is with a creamy, rooty mash of some kind: potato, celeriac or swede work particularly well. Alternatively, whip up a batch of creamed polenta and serve with a melange of wild mushrooms and wild kale. I always save the cooking liquor from the braise, sieve it and then reduce it and thicken it with a little roux for a sauce that perfectly reflects the cooking of the beef cheek. You can of course also use a slow cooker for this recipe if you have one, it will reward you with the most comforting of home cooked dishes for a cold winters’ night!
- 2 tsp of olive oil
- 2 celery sticks, washed, trimmed, finely sliced
- 2 carrots, washed, peeled and finely diced
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
- 1 medium onion (red or white), peeled and finely sliced
- Handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
- 2 bay leaves
- Small handful of mixed woody herbs: thyme and rosemary etc
- 500ml of good quality chicken stock (preferably homemade)
- 300ml of a robust, full bodied red wine
- 2-4 beef cheeks (add more wine if cooking more than two cheeks)
- Knob of butter.
- About an hour before cooking, lightly salt the beef cheeks with a good quality sea salt. Set aside.
- Bring the oven to 150 degrees Celsius, no fan.
- Into a deep cook pot with a lid, add the oil oil and two thirds of the celery, carrot, onion, garlic and tomato mix, and half the amount of herbs. Mix together.
- On top of the vegetables, add your beef cheeks.
- On top of the beef cheeks, add the remaining vegetable and herb mix.
- Pour in the chicken stock and red wine. Add a generous knob of butter on top.
- No need to season at this stage, you can do this when you are preparing the sauce later.
- Place into the oven and cook for 3.5 to 4 hours, turning the cheeks once or twice. Cook until the meat has cooked through to tender – if you were to press it with a fork it should be soft and yielding.
- When cooked, remove the cheeks from the braising liquid and set them aside to rest.
- Sieve out the vegetables from the braising liquid, keep the liquid!
- Place the liquid in a saucepan and cook until reduced by half. Add in a little cornflower mixed with warm water, add to the sauce and whisk out any lumps that might form.
- Bring the sauce up to a simmer, and return the cheeks to it to warm through gently. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Serve up with a creamy rooty mash, some kale and a generous drizzle of the sauce.