This recipe is a real winner with everyone, well except vegetarians – sorry! The time and love that needs to be put into this dish might seem a little intimidating at first but the final outcome is TOTALLY worth it. Truthfully though, once the prep is done the beef cheeks just need to cook slowly in your oven or in the slow cooker, which means more time for you to knock back a few drinks on the deck or as in my case, have your leg humped by the toddler and asked to read the same story for the 22nd time in a row! Ahhh the life of a parent! Wouldn’t change it for a second though.
What are beef cheeks? Well aside from the obvious fact that they are the cheeks of a cow, they are a versatile, delicious, melt-in-the-mouth piece of meat that at first can unfortunately scare the average homecook. It’s true, they aren’t something that you can just quickly pan fry and plop onto a plate like the average cut of beef. They definitely require some TLC and some time – this is not a dish you can whip up when you get in from a long day a work. It is dish you can enjoy preparing over a day off / weekend day and delight your family and friends with your incredible results!
All meat is made up of a combination of muscle, connective tissue and fat, but not all meat can be cooked the same way due to the varying levels of these tissues found in different cuts. The cheek is a heavily used muscle in the cow. As you can probably imagine, as the cow lazes around chewing grass all day it gets a damn good workout. So unlike say the eye fillet which has a low fat content and generally requires just a good hard sear and a little basting to bring it to the perfect temperature (55c in my book), the more fat or connective tissue in the cut generally means that the cut requires more time and a lower temperature to help break these elements down. We call this braising. Braising means initially frying meat to get a nice sear/crust on it and then cook it slowly in a closed container. This method of cooking is ideal for cuts like today’s beef cheeks but also for short ribs, lamb shanks, pork neck, oxtail and in France the classic coq au vin dish which is a braised bird dish; historically it was a cock or rooster as they are tougher birds, but nowadays most recipes use chicken thighs and legs. Braising can seem like a daunting task – will the meat that I have slowly and lovingly cooked for 3-5 hrs be ok or will I have waisted 1/2 the day on this so called glorious recipe that ultimately turns in a phone call to the local takeaway (or into my fried rice dish ;))! I totally appreciate the apprehension many of you might have and I can’t comment on every recipe on the interweb but I what I can tell you this one is definitely worth the effort and once you have mastered the art of braising you will become a bit of a fanatic. Especially during those colder months when you need to heat up the home. What better way to do it than accompanied by the divine scent of herbs, spices and red wine wafting throughout the home?
Did I mention the cost effectivness of beef cheeks? I got these ones from my local butcher at the New Farm market and they are approx $15 a kg for wagyu beef, bargain. 1kg of beef cheeks was enough meat to serve 8ppl so that’s a win in my book. If you haven’t been then head down on Saturday mornings and swing by All About Meat and tell Steve that AnotherFoodBlogger sent you.
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Ingredients – serves 8ppl
1kg beef cheeks
1 carrot – diced
1 celery – diced
1 white onion – diced
6 cloves garlic – finely chopped
1 red chili – finely chopped
1 thumbsized piece ginger – finely chopped or grated
4 sprigs thyme
1 piece of star anise
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp tomato paste
500ml red wine
500 ml beef stock
1 can diced tomatoes
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 lemon – juiced
small bunch of parsley – finely chopped (approx 2 tbsp)
small handful of chives – finely chopped (approx 2 tbsp)
salt & pepper
Breadcrumbs – can be made well in advance
4 slices of bread, preferably old
zest of 1 lemon
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp herbes de Provence
1 tsp chili flakes
Fettucine or Pappardelle pasta
small hand blender
frying pan – breadcrumbs
large heavy bottom pan with lid
1. Blend bread in small hand processor.
2. Fry bread on medium heat in pan with rest of the ingredients, stirring regularly.
3. Once bread crumbs are crispy spread onto a baking sheet or plate to cool.
4. Breadcrumbs will keep for about 1 month in cool, dry place. I always have some in the cupboard to sprinkle on other pasta dishes to add texture.
1. Stir all ingredients together in a small bowl and serve immediately or store in fridge until ready.
1. Cut beef cheeks into smaller sized pieces. I had 2 x 500g beef cheeks that I cut into 3 equal sizes.
2. Oil and season beef cheeks. Sear in a hot pan until golden brown on every side – approx 5 minutes.
3. Remove beef cheeks and leave on a clean plate.
4. Add vegetables to pan, turn down to a medium heat and cook until soft – approx 5 minutes.
5. Add wine & stock and bring to a simmer.
6. Add tinned tomatoes, tomato paste, herbs & spices and stir.
7. Place beef cheeks in pot and if needed top with a little water until cheeks are submerged.
8. Cover with a lid or aluminum foil and place in oven @ 180c for 3hrs.
9. Remove from oven and test cheeks with tongs to see if they are cooked. You are looking for the cheeks to be tender and to pull apart easily. If necessary place back in oven for 15-20 minutes.
10. Remove pan from oven, discard thyme sprigs, star anise and bay leaves.
11. Place pan on a low heat and reduce braising liquid by 1/2 – approx 15mins.
12. While reducing the liquid cook pasta according to packet.
1. Drain pasta.
2. Add some ragu to pasta and stir together.
3. Spoon pasta/ragu on to plate and top with a little more ragu.
4. Drizzle gremolata over ragu.
5. Sprinkle breadcrumbs on top.
*this may seem like a lot of work at first but as the beef cheeks slowly cook you can get the gremolata and breadcrumbs made so don’t be afraid of the long cooking time*
**the dish will keep in the fridge for 4 days and will freeze well so don’t be alarmed by the recipe serving 8ppl. Feel free to cut the portions in half but once you taste this you will regret not making more**
***the gremolata is a key component as the acidity and freshness of the herbs helps cut through the richness of the beef cheeks. This will keep for a couple days in the fridge***