The very first time I ate braised beef cheeks was in a little hard-core Spanish tapas restaurant in Kensington market back in Toronto. The dish was aptly called “tongue and cheek”. I have been eating tongue all my life (insert cheeky remark here), but cheeks were a novelty indeed. Incidentally, my choice of menu items that night had prompted the chef himself to come out into the dining room to see for himself who was ordering his “ballsy” dishes. I must mention, I also had the bull’s testicles, they were absolutely divine.
Oh, I was hopelessly absolutely smitten with the beef cheeks and from that point on every time I saw this beautiful item on a menu, it had my name on it. Le Select restaurant in Toronto does a wonderful job with this dish, so if you have not tried it, I highly recommend you give it a go.
Needless to say, when I spotted beef cheeks in Farro’s meat section I pounced on them like a cat, then looked around nervously to make sure no one had spotted my over-eager display of supermarket hunting prowess. I bought home this beautiful piece of meat not really knowing how to prepare it, so I resorted to my fuzzy recollection of Le Select’s tour de force. I have made it very regularly since and I promise you it is the most unctuous and elegant cut of beef you can imagine.
(serves 4)3 TB olive oil
3 .5 to 4 lb of trimmed beef cheeks
2 carrots – cut into medium slices
One roughly chopped onion (alternatively use a leek, or 8 whole shallots)
2 cloves garlic - crushed
1 bottle of red wine (Merlot/Cabernet/Malbec)
A few sprigs fresh thyme
1 TB butter
Salt and Pepper
First, preheat the oven at 160C or 325 F.
- Now you will need to trim as much of the fat off the cheeks as you can without cutting away too much of the meat. This can be tricky with cheeks so using a combination of sharp knife and kitchen scissors can be more effective here.
- Season the cheeks with salt and pepper. In a large heavy bottomed pot, preferably cast iron, brown the cheeks in the olive oil, then set aside.
- Throw in the onions, carrots and garlic into the same pot the cheeks were browned in and let cook for about 2-3 minutes.
- Add the beef cheeks back into the pot, throw in the thyme sprigs and let the flavours marry for a minute.
- Pour in the wine making sure all the ingredients are fully covered.
- Place lid over your pot and pop into the oven for 2.5 -3 hrs. turning the cheeks over now and again.
- Once done, remove the cheeks and carrot chunks and cover in foil to keep warm.
- You will be left with a nice rich liquid but to make an extraordinary sauce simmer the liquid on medium heat until reduced to about 1/3.
- Stir in the butter just before removing from heat. Strain the jus. You now should have a rich and glossy sauce to pour over your cheeks.
I hope you enjoy this French classic as much as I do.