Beef Cheeks

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So what are beef cheeks?

You know how some people say that if you don’t want to know the answer to a question.. don’t ask?

Well, beef cheeks are just that – cheeks from cows’ heads. Or would that be faces?

Surprisingly, the other day at the grocery store, I came across beef cheeks, and I’d never cooked them before. I’ve had them at restaurants – I think most often as an hors d’oeuvre. So it was time to try them out as a main course.

They’re a very tough piece of meat, so braising was the only way to go. So here’s what I did.

Wine-Braised Beef Cheeks

Beef cheeks, about 3 pounds
1 bottle of good red wine – you’ll be using it in the braising liquid
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
2 stalks celery, coarsely sliced
A few bay leaves
Sprig of rosemary
5 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
Olive oil
Salt
Pepper
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 stalks celery, finely chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups beef broth
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons paprika paste
Salt, to taste

Place the cheeks in a large, non-reactive bowl. add the wine, onion, rosemary, and garlic. Then cover everything with the bottle of wine. Refrigerate overnight, for at least 12 hours.

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The next day, remove the cheeks and lay them on paper towels to dry. Pour the marinade through a sieve and set it aside; discard the onion and other goodies.
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Heat some oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat. Cut up the cheeks into workable pieces, then season them on both sides with salt and pepper. Brown the cheeks, about 2 minutes on both sides, without crowding them.
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Set the browned cheeks on a plate, and continue with the remaining pieces. Then lower the heat to medium and add the onion, celery, and carrot. Saute the vegetables for 5 minutes.

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Stir in the garlic and saute for just a minute. Then add the remaining marinade, and the beef broth. Reduce the mixture by about half.

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When the liquid has reduced, stir in the tomato paste and the paprika paste.

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Return the cheeks to the pot, including any liquid that might have accumulated on the plate, and bring the liquid to a boil. Cover the pot, reduce the heat, and simmer the cheeks for about 2 1/2 hours. Turn the pieces over about halfway through the cooking time – especially if they’re not completely submerged in the liquid.

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Remove the lid from the pot, and let everything cool down. Refrigerate overnight.

The next day, remove the cheeks and slice them thinly. You can strain the liquid in the pot to remove the aromatics, but I left them as is. Place the cheek slices in the liquid and heat slowly until heated through. Taste the liquid and add salt, if necessary.

I served the cheek slices on top of cheesy polenta, topped with some of the braising liquid. Alternatively, you could also strain the braising liquid and make more of a gravy with it, but I preferred a more rustic presentation.
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If you need a recipe for making polenta, which are also grits (they’re both cornmeal), there’s a recipe here and one here.

The combination was really fantastic. And I enjoyed beef cheeks as a main course. They’re almost like beef tongue, but much softer. They were also very inexpensive.

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41 thoughts on “Beef Cheeks

  1. Thanks for sharing. I would have never guessed where beef cheeks came from :-)

    Does this piece of meat require any extra tenderizing?

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  2. How interesting! They look divine. I have never cooked our ate them. Something to try soon – along with cow tongue, which I saw at the market recently. The braising process must tame the beef and make it tender (we don’t want a cheeky cheek!). :-) Shanna

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  3. Have never eaten beef cheeks … but I’m not a big beefeater – we make a dish for Christmas using most of a pig head. Very interesting dish … first I thought you served it with girt – that I’m not so passionate about, but I love polenta. A Happy New Year to you and thanks for 2013.

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      • I think the right word is jellied – as we eat as a cold cut. I will see if I can find a recipe. My grandma made it every Christmas.
        I know … I had my ups and downs this year – but that is life.
        Didn’t know that you read my blog .. thank you so much.

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  4. One of the best meals I have ever had was beef cheeks at Michael Smith’s in KC. I’ve never even thought about looking for them in the meat market. Doh! Thanks for sharing this recipe. I will start looking.

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    • I found them at Walmart, of all places. The Mexicans must cook with them a lot. I found them next to tripe. Not trying to make a cultural/political statement, it’s just that that’s where I found the cheeks!

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  5. wow, what a delicious and comforting dish…
    lovin it fork tender, i guess beef cheek or other secondary cut dish is rising up on professional and fancy restaurant nowdays…
    btw, i just had a 30 USD multiple courses lunch, one of the dish is sousvide beef cheeks, and it’s pretty damn good!

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  6. I made these for my family last weekend and the braising made the meat easy to eat and cut just like you said.

    I couldn’t wait until my family finished eating so I could spring on them that they just ate “beef cheeks”. Well when I told them they all paused a minute, looked at each other and then said they didn’t care what the meat was they wanted more!

    I guess the joke was on me! :-)

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