Beef cheeks by golly

Jul 16th, 2019 | By | Category: Country Cooking, Home Range, News

Photo of beef cheek dish

A lesser-known cut makes classic winter comfort food, says Kate Wilson from Prof’s @ Woodlands Cafe.  She writes about juicy, tender slow-cooked beef cheeks in the current issue of Home Range magazine.  We also welcome Kate as our new food writer at Number 8 Network – here’s to some great cooking stories!

Comfort food has many definitions.

Familiar territory and childhood memories are significant components. There are also a number of common sensual elements in comfort food. Now we are in the cooler seasons, comfort food reigns.

Carbohydrates dominate and softer silkier food comes through, food that doesn’t challenge, but soothes.

Lip-smacking unctuousness is another feature. Flavours that are deeper, having more umami (savouriness), and more caramelisation. Soups, stews and slower cooking abound.

My mum’s vegetable soup with pearl barley and ham hock accompanied by plenty of bread combines all of the key elements of comfort food. Mashed potato is another prime example.

With slower cooking, different and cheaper cuts of meat can be used. Acclaimed UK chef Fergus Henderson of the Nose to Tail movement espouses use of the lesser-known cuts.

I totally agree. From a ‘virtue’ perspective there is less waste with more of an animal being used, rather than just the fillet. Fewer animals are required to feed the carnivores amongst us.

Further, the chemical and physical characteristics of lesser-known and tougher cuts are different to the popular tender cuts and are more suited to slow cooking and comfort food.

A so-called ‘tough’ cut of meat usually comes from the harder working muscles of the animal. For example pigs’ shoulder and leg muscles work hard to get them through the mud, making them tougher than the less-worked muscles of the back.

The toughness comes from connective tissues such as collagen which hold muscle fibres together and forms part of the tendons that connect muscles to bones.

However when you slow cook collagen at a low temperature, the collagen ends up melting into gelatin. This has a number of beneficial results.

Dissolving of the collagen causes the previously connected meat fibres to separate from each other. Not only does this ‘falling apart’ of the meat create tenderness, the separating fibres also makes the meat more readily ‘pulled’. You can do this easily at home by using a couple of forks to pull apart meat while still hot from cooking. Don’t do while cold as the fibres can break.

Another benefit is the textural addition of gelatin (the primary component of jelly) which is what provides the lip-smacking sensation you get with slow-cooked meats.

There is however a disadvantage to slow-cooking as it can cause the meat fibres to dry out. Therefore care is needed to slow moisture loss. This can be achieved by:

• Brining (soaking in salt water)

• Cooking covered meat with liquid

• Caramelising the meat

• Cooking fat side up to self-baste

• Marinading in an acid such as vinegar or lemon juice

So when we were thinking of bringing a comfort food menu item to our café, we had regard to all of the foregoing, and came up with, wait for it, Beef Cheek!

The cheek is one of the hardest working muscles on a cow from chewing its cud. Therefore it has loads of collagen. We sear the cheek first to reduce moisture loss during the slow cooking phase (three hours) and to add flavour through caramelisation.

To keep the meat juicy we cook it under foil with vegetables and liquid. To retain flavour we whiz up the cooking liquid and vegetables with the meat juices for our gravy.

We serve the cheek on top of a silky potato mash that helps soak up the gravy we pour over top of the sliced cheek. With spinach stirred within the potato and a couple of orange glazed carrots, you have a comfort meal that ticks all the boxes.


Kate Wilson

A rare shot of Kate sitting.

Prof’s Beef Cheeks

Olive oil for frying
Approx. 1.5kg beef cheeks
1 large onion – diced
1 stalk celery – diced
1 large carrot – diced
4 cloves garlic – roughly chopped
1.5 tsp dried thyme, but we prefer fresh – one large sprig with twine around for ready removal
3 bay leaves (again we use fresh but you can use dry)
1 cup beef stock
2 cups red wine
Black pepper

• Place beef cheeks and olive oil in casserole dish on stove to sear the beef
• Remove cheeks and saute in olive oil the onion, carrots, celery and garlic (add garlic at end to avoid burning)
• Pour wine into dish and scrape the bottom to incorporate flavour into the liquid
• Simmer briefly and then add the cheeks and rest of the ingredients
• Cook covered at 180 C for 3 ½ hours in the oven. Yes, that long!
• Remove the thyme sprigs, bay leaves and beef cheeks
• Use a stick blender to whiz up the liquid and then simmer over medium heat until it reduces to a gravy-like consistency (around 5 minutes)
• Taste and add salt/pepper to taste
• Serve beef cheeks over creamy mash, gravy on top and with vegetables such as carrots, peas, broccoli, spinach or whatever you like.


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