Of all the "nasty bits" -- a gourmand's term of endearment for offal meats -- a cow offers, the cheeks resemble a regular cut of meat the most. Unlike the tongue, with its sheath of knobby taste buds stretched over it from front to back, or the stomach and small intestine, with their honeycomb texture and gelatinous mouthfeel, cow cheeks have a meaty texture and a tough consistency, just like a rump roast or sirloin. And, like any tough cuts of beef, they need braised a few hours in the oven for tenderness.
Things You'll Need
- Kitchen knife
- Food-storage container
- Kosher salt
- Black pepper
- Rimmed baking sheet or shallow dish
- Dutch oven or braising dish
- White onions
- Simmering braising liquid, such as wine, stock or both
- Canned peeled stew tomatoes or acid such as lemon juice
- Fresh herbs and spices
- Plastic wrap
- Wooden spoon
Heat the oven to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
Trim the cheeks of hanging fat and pieces of cartilage hanging off the meat. Blanch the beef cheeks in boiling water for one minute and place them in a container of ice water to cool. Blanching removes any lingering impurities and traces of blood.
Season the cheeks with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste on both sides and coat them in oil. Place the cheeks on a rimmed baking sheet or in a shallow dish set them in the oven when it reaches 500 F.
Oven-sear the cheeks until browned all over, about 15 to 20 minutes, and take them out. Drop the oven temperature to 325 F.
Remove the cheeks and place them in a braising dish or Dutch oven. Pour about 2 tablespoons of fat from the pan you seared the cheeks in into the braising dish and discard the remainder.
Add a few cups of mirepoix and other vegetables to the braising dish. Mirepoix, or two parts chopped white onions to one part each chopped carrots and celery, adds undertones of flavor and aroma to the meat its braised with -- not enough to overpower, but just enough to know it's there. With beef cheeks, you don't have to worry about mirepoix or other vegetables overpowering them, so feel free to add more vegetables, pungent aromatics and strong flavors as you like. For example, you could add garlic and chili peppers for complexity and a bit of heat, or use celeriac and yellow onions in your mirepoix instead of celery and white onions to increase the background flavors.
Pour a simmering liquid in the braising dish to braise the cheeks in. You need a liquid that contributes flavor to the cheeks, and one already simmering because it takes about an hour to bring a cold liquid to a simmer in a low oven. Stock, wine, or equal parts of both fit the bill, and they concentrate down into a rich-bodied sauce by the time the cheeks are ready. Use enough braising liquid to almost cover the cheeks, maybe three-fourths or more of the way up the sides of them.
Add a can of peeled stew tomatoes or a spoonful or two of acid, such as lemon juice, lime juice or Worcestershire sauce, to the braising dish. Tomatoes add flavor, lend a rich color and, most importantly, contribute acid to support the moist heat in tenderizing the cheeks.
Add fresh herbs and spices of choice to the dish and cover it with plastic wrap. Cover the Dutch oven or the braising dish with its lid and place it in the oven.
Stir the cheeks after about 1 1/2 hours of braising and check the level of the liquid. Add more stock or wine as needed to keep the cheeks nearly submerged.
Braise the cheeks for a total of 3 1/2 hours, or until fork tender, and remove the dish or Dutch oven. Let the cheeks rest for about 15 minutes before serving.
Tips & Warnings
- Make the beef cheeks two days ahead reverse-marinate them, if desired. Reverse-marinating, or marinating fully-cooked, braised meats in their own cooking liquid and juices, melds the flavors from the braising liquid, the aromatic vegetables and the herbs and spices, and, in the case of beef cheeks, causes them to lose any offal-ish flavors that might be present. Let the cheeks reach room temperature in the braising dish and transfer the cheeks and liquid to an airtight food-storage container. Cover the surface of the liquid with parchment paper and wrap the container with plastic wrap before you place the cover on it. Spoon off the fat from the top of the braising liquid before you reheat the cheeks.
- If you want to make a thickened sauce out of the braising liquid, remove the cheeks and leave the pan in the oven. Check the consistency every 30 minutes until it reaches the desired thickness, then return the beef cheeks to the sauce and reheat them in it.
- Reheat braised cheeks to 165 F.
- Photo Credit Eising/Photodisc/Getty Images