Last Sunday’s culinary adventure was beef cheeks. We’ve had a freezer full of various bits of cow, thanks to my beef-rearing mother-in-law. I’ve curried chuck, sizzled steaks and braised beef neck (now there’s a cut you don’t hear about very often) – I appropriated a recipe for oxtail stew, left it to putter away in the slow-cooker all day and it was really delicious.
So, the beef cheeks. I Google for recipes, since my cook books are disappointingly lacking on this score, and find a great one from Maggie Beer which I adapt slightly owing to time constraints. Following a trip to the supermarket I get down to business. The recipe says to marinate the meat the day before but it’s too late for that. So I pat the four cheeks dry, season them with salt and pepper, and brown them in the big non-stick pan until they are nicely caramelised. Into the slow-cooker they go. Then I pour a cup of red wine into the pan which hisses and bubbles before it starts to simmer and reduce gradually to half the amount, a deep plum-coloured liquid. That too goes into the slow-cooker. I wipe out the pan with kitchen paper, heat some olive oil, and sauté a chopped onion and celery stick until they are translucent and a bit brown at the edges. I put those in the pan too along with two cups of beef stock, plus the herbs that would have been part of the marinade: thyme, star anise and bay leaves.
It cooks for four hours by which time the cheeks are still quite firm when prodded with a wooden spoon. I debate whether to chance it and eat them now, or get in take-away, let the beef continue cooking ’til bed-time and eat them the next night instead. I decide on the latter and pop up the road to get goat curry, tandoori chicken and garlic naan from our fabulous Indian place, Faheem. The beef cheeks cook for another hour or more and the prod test reveals that they are now beautifully soft and apt to fall apart – perfick! Next day I reheat them and their fabulously gelatinous sauce and serve with mashed potato and steamed cavelo nero which we bought from the wonderful Eveleigh Market in Redfern on Saturday. The meat does indeed fall apart at the mere touch of a fork and it’s tender and succulent. The sauce is rich and complex with the intense flavours of concentrated red wine. It’s fair to say I am very happy indeed!