Beef Cheeks, Baby!
I’ve found a new love.
Its name is beef cheeks.
Oh sure, for the longest time, I’d had a torrid love affair with short ribs, my favorite cut of meat for its unabashed tenderness.
But what can I say? Beef cheeks have that going on and more.
Braised for hours, their toughness gives way to pure unadulterated lushness. Best yet, they don’t have bones like short ribs nor any bits of fat and sinew left even after long cooking. They’re just succulent meat through and through.
It used to be that I could only enjoy these at restaurants. But now that Prather Ranch has started selling its primo, sustainable meats in the South Bay at farmers markets in Santa Clara and Campbell, they’re easy to come by.
After scoring four nicely trimmed beef cheeks that way, I cooked them one lazy Sunday, using this recipe from Gourmet magazine found via Epicurious.
“Braised Beef Cheeks” couldn’t be easier. You basically throw everything in a pot and stick it in the oven for three hours until the house smells so savory good you can barely stand it.
The braising liquid of red wine (I used a fruity California Zinfandel), tomatoes and cocoa powder thickens from all the collagen in the meat to a lovely consistency. The recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder, but I upped it to 1 teaspoon — well, just because.
I served it on a bed of cranberry beans. But you could use any favorite beans or polenta, mashed potatoes or egg noodles.
You can even make it a day or two ahead, as the flavors only deepen and get even more satisfying.
Try it and I guarantee it’ll be the start of a new love affair for you, too.
Braised Beef Cheeks
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 (12-ounce) beef cheeks, trimmed of excess fat
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, finely chopped
1/2 celery rib, finely chopped
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
2 cups red wine (preferably a dry Lambrusco or Chianti)
1 (28- to 32-ounce) can whole tomatoes including juice, chopped (3 cups)
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in an ovenproof 6-quart wide heavy pot or dutch oven over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. While oil is heating, pat beef cheeks dry and season with salt and pepper. Brown beef, without crowding, on all sides, about 15-20 minutes total, and transfer with tongs to a bowl. Pour off fat from pot, then add remaining 2 tablespoons oil and cook onion, carrot and celery over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Stir cocoa powder into vegetable mixture, then add wine and scrape up any brown bits. Increase heat to high and boil until liquid is reduced by half, about 10 minutes.
Return cheeks (with any juices) to pot and add tomatoes with juice, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, then braise, covered, in the middle of the oven until very tender, about 3 hours.
Note: Beef cheeks improve in flavor if made up to 2 days ahead. Cool, uncovered, then chill, surface covered with parchment paper or wax paper and pot covered with lid. Remove any solidified fat before reheating.
Adapted from Uno e Bino as published in Gourmet, March 2003
More Beefy Goodness: Ming Tsai’s Savory Braised Oxtail with Preserved Lemon Polenta