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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When the liquid has reduced, stir in the tomato paste and the paprika paste.
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.
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.
If you need a recipe for making polenta, which are also grits (they’re both cornmeal), there’s a recipe pumpkin polenta and one called double corn grits that would both be good with the cheeks.
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.