With slightly cooler weather approaching it is the perfect time to pull out the ultimate comfort food recipes. The ones that take ages to make but are so worth it in every way. One of my favourites recipes is beef cheeks braised in red wine.
Beef cheeks are the cheek muscles of cows and they are a very lean cut of meat. It is a budget cut that needs to be cooked whole, long and slow to make it tender. It absorbs the flavours of the braising juice well and when you cut into it, it is stringy, almost like pulled pork or brisket. The difference with beef cheeks is a more constant texture without dry sections; every mouthful is juicy and luscious.
This recipe is made with a classic Italian red wine braising juice. The deep, warm, and complex flavours of red wine are a perfect stock base for slow cooked beef dishes. Choose a full-bodied red like Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon.
A pet peeve of mine is recipes that tell you that you must use good quality drinking wine for slow cooking recipes. I do not believe that at all for slow cooked dishes. For sauces, yes, absolutely, but not for a braising liquid.
Serves 4 people
- 3 tbsp olive oil, separated
- 5kg beef cheeks, (4 large or 6 small beef cheeks)
- 1 onion (white, brown or yellow), roughly diced
- 1 celery stalk, roughly diced
- 1 carrot, roughly diced
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 6 stems of fresh thyme or 1½ tsp dried thyme leaves
- 4 dried bay leaves (or 3 fresh bay leaves)
- 1 cup beef stock
- 2 cups red wine (full bodied eg. cabernet sauvignon or merlot)
- 3 tsp salt, separated
- black pepper
Prepare the beef cheeks by cutting off any large, fatty membrane. Pat dry and then season each side with 1 tsp of salt and a good grind of pepper. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a large heavy based pan (or casserole dish with a lid if you are baking, or pot if you are cooking on the stove) over high heat. Sear the beef cheeks on each side until nicely browned. If your pan is not large enough, work in batches rather than crowding the pan. Remove beef cheeks onto a plate and loosely cover with foil to keep warm.
Turn down the heat to medium high and heat the remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil. Add garlic, onion and carrots. Sauté for 3 minutes until onion is becoming translucent, then add the celery and sauté for a further 3 minutes. Pour the wine into the pot / casserole dish (with the onion mixture) and stir to scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pot. Bring wine to simmer for 1 minute. Add remaining ingredients (including 2 tsp salt) and return the beef cheeks to the pan. Put lid on and cook on the stove on medium low for 2 to 2½ hours, or in the oven at 160C for 3 to 3½ hours until the cheeks are very tender. Turn at least once during cooking.
Open the pot/casserole dish and remove the beef cheeks. Discard the thyme stems and bay leaves. Use a handheld stick blender to puree the braising liquid into a smooth sauce – it will change from a dark brown to a lighter brown colour. Bring the sauce to simmer over medium heat and simmer until it turns a darker brown colour and reduces by about ¼ to ⅓, to a gravy consistency – about 3 to 5 minutes. Adjust the seasoning (salt and pepper) to your taste. Remove from heat, return beef cheeks to the sauce, cover and keep warm until ready to serve.
These beef cheeks are so meltingly tender that you can eat them with a spoon. And the sauce is so flavourful you’ll want to drink it out of a cup. Leftovers (if you have any) are brilliant to turn into a quick ragu to toss through pasta or make a pie.
Serve beef cheeks on creamy polenta, drizzled with a generous amount of sauce. Garnish with finely chopped parsley if desired.
Making polenta is the easiest thing in the world, and can be a nice complement to many meat dishes.
- 940ml water
- 1 tsp salt
- 165 g polenta or yellow cornmeal
- 125 g cheese (optional) (I do a mix of cheddar and parmesan)
- 1-3 tbsp butter (optional)
Bring the water to a brisk boil over medium-high heat. Add the salt. While whisking gently, pour the polenta into the boiling water in a steady stream. Turn down the heat to low and continue whisking until the polenta has thickened enough that it doesn’t settle back on the bottom of the pan when you stop stirring. Cover the polenta and continue cooking. Stir vigorously every 10 minutes or so, making sure to scrape the sides, bottom, and corners of the pan. Cook 30 minutes for softer porridge-like polenta or 40 minutes for thicker polenta. At this point stir the cheese and butter into the polenta, if using. Serve immediately, or cover the pan and let it sit at the back of the stove for up to 15 minutes before serving.
Leftover polenta will solidify into the shape of the container in which you store it. It can be sliced or cubed before being roasted, grilled, or deep-fried. To make it creamy again, warm it with a little broth, milk, or water, and stir vigorously. It won’t be quite as creamy as it was originally, but it should still be pourable.
Coconut Sponge with Lemon Curd
Lemon curd—everyone loves the stuff. It’s like edible sunshine, it brightens pastries and adds an awesome zing to tarts and parfaits. Its intense flavour demands attention, charming whoever eats it into a moment of focused appreciation. It is elevated when sandwiched between a deliciously soft coconut sponge. Simple and light, perfect after a rich dinner.
For the cake
- 225 g unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
- 225 g caster sugar
- 4 large free-range eggs
- 225 g self-raising flour
- ½ tsp baking powder
- 75 g desiccated coconut
- a splash of milk
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease and flour the bottom of two 9 inch cake tins. Cream the butter and sugar together until lovely, pale and fluffy, then beat in the eggs, one at a time. Fold in the flour, desiccated coconut and baking powder, add a splash of milk and the vanilla extract, and mix again. Pour into the prepared tins and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. To test if it is done insert a toothpick and if it comes out clean then your sponge is ready.
Remove it from the oven and turn the sponges out onto a cooling rack. Allow to cool completely before adding the lemon curd.
- 150 g lemon juice
- 10 g lemon zest
- 200 g butter
- 175 g sugar
- 8 egg yolks
- 13 g gelatin sheet
- 5 g citric acid
- 1 g salt
- Ice water, as needed
Place the gelatin sheets in a bowl with ice water and allow to bloom for 5 to 10 minutes. When they are soft remove them from the water and squeeze well to remove excess water.
Using a carrot peeler, remove the zest of 3 lemons, being careful to avoid the white pith. Put the zest in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Add the sugar, citric acid and salt. Pulse until the zest is very finely minced.
Cream the butter and beat in the sugar and lemon mixture. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, and then add the lemon juice and salt. Mix until combined.
Pour the mixture into a saucepan and cook over low heat until thickened (about 10 minutes), stirring constantly. Remove from the heat and stir in the gelatin sheets until dissolved. Strain and allow to cool.
To assemble the cake, place one sponge on a cake stand and spread with half the cooled lemon curd. Top with the other sponge, then spread over the rest of the curd. Slice and enjoy on its own or with a dollop of soft whipped cream.
Good food to make even better memories with! Enjoy!
The Textured Table ~ by Chef Irene Fernandez