Wednesday, 10 March 2010
Beef cheeks can be a little hard to find. Legislation passed in the wake of the BSE scare of the mid 1990s meant they were completely off menu for quite some time and even now a quiet word in your butcher’s ear will likely be necessary to score the bounty.
A general rule of meat cookery runs thus – the more work it does, the longer it cooks. A beef cheek is probably the natural end point of the scale. There aren’t many calories in grass so – being a ruminant – a cow has to get through an awful lot before it feels full and it’s all got to be chewed. At least twice. That’s a lot of work.
The upshot of this is a supremely tasty fist-sized nugget of meat that can be braised in red wine and stock until it’s ready to be balanced on a heap of mashed potato and covered in a rich sauce. The slightest prod with the tines of a fork should have it collapsing into tender meaty strands.
It also makes a staggeringly good and achingly rich ragu. Done this way, two cheeks should be enough for four people.
Trim any excess fat or sinew from the meat, cut into chunks, season with salt and pepper and brown in hot fat in a casserole. Deglaze the pan with white wine vinegar then sweat down some finely diced carrot, celery and onion in olive oil.
Return the meat to the pan with the vegetables, add a large glass of red wine and a carton of passata and cover with a cartouche. Braise the whole lot in a very low oven for six hours by which point the volume of liquid will have halved and the meat should be falling into the sauce.
Serve stirred into pasta and be ready to pledge not to use minced beef again.