Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Beef Cheek Ragu



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.

11 comments:

Kavey said...

I've been trying to get some beef cheeks recently for a recipe I've been wanting to make for a few months. No local butchers (and the nearest two not very good) means I'm limited either to online options or traipsing into central London with an ice-box! Online = minimum order. So I'm waiting till there's more freezer space... sigh!
This one has now joined the book mark!

Foodycat said...

Oh nice! I've been working on an oxtail ragu, but I think this looks superior! I must try to get some.

Ben / letsstartsimple.com said...

Thank you for reminding me of asking my butcher for beef cheek. I totally forgot I wanted to try do something with this cut of beef.

The recipe looks amazing by the way, thanks a lot for sharing!

Cheers,
Ben

saltychickenfiend said...

I have two complaints.

1. I'm so hungry, and this looks delicious. Surely this violates an aspect of the Geneva Convention?

2. You've ruined ragu for me forever - as now whenever I make a meat sauce for pasta, I'm going to be thinking "I bet this would taste better if I used beef cheeks", and there ain't no way I'm going to be able to get my hands on some. Devastated.

Awesomely delicious looking work, as ever!

Cynthia said...

I've heard a lot about beef cheeks, never had it.

Lizzie said...

I really must experiment with cheeks (both beef and pig) soon; I've heard so much about them. Your photos are mouth-watering.

Paunchos said...

Awesome stuff. A great use of brilliant ox cheeks. I can actually taste this right now. And can't wait to get my hands on some ox cheeks again.

marv woodhouse said...

are beef cheeks particularly expensive?

cook it, eat it, enjoy it... said...

I love the sound of this, will definitely give it a try...

vashonista said...

I'm sorry you have such a hard time finding these on your side of the pond. I live in Washington State and buy all of my meat from a local farmer who raises grass raised and finished meat. I have some cheeks in the fridge defrosting right now. I'm going to make a ragu with homemade pasta for dinner tonight. Yum.

nancy said...

Kavey - I just bought beef cheeks at WalMart....and they say it is a devil store! Can't wait to try them for the first time.