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 our very own 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.
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.
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
• 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.
But wait – there’s more!
We have lots of recipes on Number 8 Network. Here’s an absolute gem, Boston Baked Beans – feeds an army, this slow-cooked genuine recipe is a winner.