This beef cheek ragu 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. This 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. At first, can unfortunately scare the average home cook but follow this simple beef cheek ragu recipe and you won't regret it. 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. Braised beef cheek ragu is a 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. This is 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 ;))!
Helpful tip on the braising front. Beef cheeks are quite large in size and as mentioned contain a lot of fat/muscle/connective tissue so require plenty time to cook. Help speed up this process by cutting the beef cheeks in 1/2 or even into 1/3's prior to cooking. To do this you need to make sure your knife game is strong. I use a boning knife to do so. If you are on the hunt for a new one check out this great article from my friend Markella over at Well Fed on her tips on 'best boning knives'.
I totally appreciate the apprehension many of you might have with beef cheeks. I can't comment on every beef cheek ragu recipe on the interweb but I what I can tell you this one is definitely worth the effort. Once you have mastered the art of braising and this beef cheek ragu recipe in particular 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? Don't forget to check out my homemade breadcrumbs recipe too as they add a great texture to the dish!
Cost Effective Too
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 8-10ppl so that's a win in my book. Not to mention the fact that my daughter (2.5yr old) favourite dinner is this beef cheek ragu. If you haven't been then head down on Saturday mornings and swing by All About Meat and tell Steve that AnotherFoodBlogger sent you.
Now this pairing is a GREAT one. Nero di Troia. Not a grape I can say I had heard of or tasted up until recently. Stemming from fair Verona in the northern part of Italy this is a grape that to date was best known for blending and not one for drinking solo. Well at least internationally. The Italians were definitely doing something right when they were sipping this bad boy. For me I get some smoke, leather, tar, green peppercorn and a touch of licorice. This may sound crazy but they are common terms used in wine tasting and boy do they taste good with this wine. Tons of good fruit with cherry being the main one and blackberry and blackcurrant coming through too. A little salinity, well balanced tannins and medium + acidity.
Open this bad boy up, enjoy a glass on it's own and then try it with my beef cheek ragu. #winner Click the LINK if you are keen on picking up a few bottles. You won't be disappointed!
Happy Cooking & Happy Eating Friends!
- 1 kg beef cheeks
- 2 carrots diced
- 1 celery diced
- 1 white onion diced
- 6 cloves garlic finely chopped
- 1 red chili finely chopped
- 1 thumbsized piece ginger finely chopped
- 4 sprigs thyme
- 1 piece star anise
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 500 ml red wine
- 500 ml beef stock
- 440ml can diced tomatoes
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 lemon juiced
- small bunch parsley finely chopped
- pinch salt
- pinch pepper
Fettucine or Pappardelle pasta
- Stir all ingredients together in a small bowl and serve immediately or store in fridge until ready.
- Cut beef cheeks into smaller sized pieces. I had 2 x 500g beef cheeks that I cut into 3 equal sizes.
- Oil and season beef cheeks. Sear in a hot pan until golden brown on every side – approx 5 minutes. Remove beef cheeks and leave on a clean plate.
- Add vegetables to pan, turn down to a medium heat and cook until soft – approx 5 minutes. Add wine & stock and bring to a simmer.
- Add tinned tomatoes, tomato paste, herbs & spices and stir. Place beef cheeks in pot and if needed top with a little water until cheeks are submerged. Bring to a simmer.
- Cover with a lid or aluminum foil and place in oven @ 180c for 3hrs.
- 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.
- Remove pan from oven, discard thyme sprigs, star anise and bay leaves.
- Place pan on a low heat and reduce braising liquid by 1/3 – approx 15mins.
- chopping board
- measuring jug/spoons
- small hand blender
- frying pan – breadcrumbs
- large heavy bottom pan with lid
- wooden spoon
- this may seem like a lot of work at first but as the beef cheeks slowly cook you can get the parsley oil 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 parsley oil 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
- 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.