This week I wanted to share with you an old classic that uses a wonderful, if rarely used, cut of meat. Beef cheeks are one of the most astounding flavours and so cheap to buy. Yes I do mean cheeks, the ones near the mouth not the ones at the other end!
With meat cookery you need to look at the amount of work a muscle does to understand its flavour and cooking method. Put simply, the more work a muscle does the better the flavour but the tougher the texture, that’s why the relatively unworked fillet is a fantastic texture even when cooked very quickly but frankly a bit boring in the taste department, which is why we tend to marry it to highly flavoured sauces (like peppercorns).
With beef cheeks, the muscle work rate is phenomenal, which explains the truly extraordinary flavour. If you’ve ever spent some time watching a cow you’ll know that it’s the one muscle that is constantly in motion. The only thing left is to deal with the texture, probably the perfect role of the slow cooker.
Braised Beef Cheeks
2 beef cheeks
300ml hearty red wine
1/2-1 tsp Chinese five spice
2 tbsp butter or even better, duck fat
salt and pepper to taste
2 cloves garlic, sliced very thinly
1. In a very hot heavy pan (cast iron would be the best option), sear the cheeks on both sides for approximately 1-2 minutes per side. Remove from pan and set in a slow cooker.
2. Pour the wine over top, sprinkle the cheeks liberally with Chinese five spice, toss in the butter (or duck fat), season to taste with salt and sprinkle the garlic over top.
3. Set the slow cooker to “low” and allow to cook uninterrupted for 8 hours.
4. When finished, remove from slow cooker gently (as they will be delicate and fall apart easily at this stage, and serve with accompanying vegetables or mashed potatoes.
This is such a gloriously rich, full flavoured dish that you can bring out the big, hearty red wine. For me the extraordinary blend of grapes in the Célèbre 2007 from Ata Rangi in Martinborough is a blast of joy.