from one generation to the next
There’s lots to love about winter. Slippers, sloppy joe jumpers, open fires, soup, scarves and oven braised meat are some of my highlights. Melbourne has mild winters by world standards, no snow, no sleet, no ice, it’s just grey and damp, but it’s cold enough to be called winter.
I was never much of a fan of braised meat until I tasted it oven braised in a cast iron pot. At first I played it safe and only cooked commonly known cuts of beef sold as braising steak. As my confidence grew, I began to try oxtail, shin, short ribs, cheeks, all those sticky gelatinous cuts that cook to an unctuous softness that can be cut with a spoon. Now I really love winter!
Beef cheeks are unique. They can be braised whole and not disintegrate which makes for easy plating. One cheek is a perfect serve.
The first time you buy beef cheeks can be a bit daunting. On my first encounter a few years ago they were sold with a lot of tissue that needed to be trimmed off, but now it’s such a popular cut, your butcher has probably made them ready for the pot. If not, smile and ask him to do it for you. I bought my beef vacuum packed from the Farmer’s Market so I had to prepare the cheeks myself.
There is a thick layer of fat which needs to be removed. Cutting this fat off is quite simple if you have a sharp boning knife. Under the fat is a tough silver membrane so I use a technique similar to removing the skin from a fish fillet.
Place the cheek, fat side down, on a board. At the corner closest to you, slip the blade between the membrane and the muscle. Hold the corner of the fat and angling the blade toward the membrane, cut between the membrane and the muscle working away from your body,. It should cut away cleanly. Trim away any remaining obvious fat and non muscle tissue.
You should end up with a lean piece of meat the size of the palm of your hand.
4 beef cheeks
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
250mls robust red wine
250mls beef stock
1 large carrot, diced
4 sticks of celery, diced
6 medium sized Swiss brown mushrooms, diced
3 cloves of garlic, smashed
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 heaped tablespoon tomato paste (concentrate)
Preheat the oven to 150C.
In an ovenproof lidded casserole dish, I use a Le Creuset, heat half the olive oil then sweat the vegetables until soft. Add the tomato paste, bay leaves, thyme and garlic and continue cooking over a low heat.
While the vegetables are sauteeing, heat a frypan, season the meat with salt and pepper and brown the meat all over until well coloured.
Put the meat on top of the vegetables.
Deglaze the meat pan with the wine being sure to scrape all the brown crusty scraps into the wine.
Pour the wine over the meat then add the stock and enough water so that the meat is covered. Bring the casserole dish to the boil. Cover the surface of the meat and stock with a close fitting piece of baking paper, then put on the lid.
Slowly braise the beef cheeks in the oven for 3 hours.
Chill overnight, skim off any solidified fat, then reheat for another hour at 150C
We enjoyed our braised beef cheeks with parsnip puree and Brussels sprouts leaves sauteed with pancetta.