Now that’s a bit cheeky!
As we all become a little more thrifty in the kitchen, exciting frugal ingredients are swiftly coming to light – cheeks being just one of them. Sourced easily from most butchers or fishmongers (pre-ordering is advised), nose to tail eating seems to be a more economical way of purchasing meat.
As a relatively lean, yet budget cut of meat, the cheek of an animal, whether it be beef, pork or even fish, offers a tender and succulent texture that is fantastic at absorbing braising liquors and aromatics.
Marbled with a little fat makes these cuts full-flavoured, rendering down to a melt-in-your-mouth meal ideal for feeding the masses without weighing too heavily on your purse. Although a large succulent beef cheek can be served in its entirety, ‘pulling’ or shredding the meat once cooked allows you to generously distribute it into the cooking sauce for a decadent and comforting one-pot-wonder!
Unlike fish or even pork cheeks that need a sympathetic sauce, beef cheeks are quite gutsy so look for an equally brash cooking liquor. Deep and rich, beef cheeks are commonly used in slow-cooked curry sauces or aromatic, sticky asian braising. Traditionally though, particularly in western Europe, it would seem that red wine is the go to flavour friend.
But with the British classic of steak and ale hard to stray far from, I opted for a rich, golden, malty ale to be my cheek’s supporting act. Sourced from a fantastic brewery nestled in the beautiful Quantock hills, the aptly named Quantock Brewery use traditional craft brewery techniques from locally sourced materials to arrive at some very fine tasting Somerset ales.
Although I am partial to an beer or two simply on its own, these ales’ rich, hoppy and defined characteristic are perfect for cooking with too. With a smooth, hoppy blend, I opted for Wills Neck – a late hopped golden ale that carries distinct roasted malt flavours perfect for blending into a sumptuous beer-based gravy.
So, with a cold snap back biting at our doors, its a return to stews, soups and hearty grub to keep the winter at bay. I have paired this fuss-free dish with a wonderfully seasonal celeriac and potato puree that is the ideal velvety accompaniment. This less than desirable-looking root is a thing of beauty this time of year, offering subtle celery-like flavours and nutty notes making this dish even more decadent and comforting. A true winter warmer!
1.5kg beef cheek, trimmed
1 large onion
1 large garlic clove
300g carrot, finely diced
3 celery stalks, finely diced
1 tbsp plain flour
Mixed herbs; thyme, rosemary, bay leaves
600ml beef stock
CELERIAC & POTATO PUREE
1 tsp nutmeg
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper
- Pre-heat the oven to 160C/ Gas mark 3.
- Season the beef cheeks generously with salt and pepper. Heat a dash of oil in a non-stick frying pan and, in batches, brown and seal the beef cheeks before placing in a large lidded, oven-proof dish.
- Finely dice the onion and garlic and soften in a little oil in the same pan used for the meat. Lightly fry for 2 - 3 minutes before adding to the dish with browned meat. Add a splash of ale to the frying pan to deglaze - scrape the brown bits from the pan before adding to the meat and onions.
- Heat another dash of oil in the frying pan and add the carrots and celery. Fry for 2 - 3 minutes to soften, then add the plain flour coating all the vegetables. Cook for 1 minutes keeping the ingredients moving to ensure the flour does not burn. Pour in the remaining ale and allow to rapidly simmer for 2 minutes, then add to the oven dish along with the other ingredients.
- Add the herbs to the dish then pour over the stock. Ensure all of the ingredients are covered with the liquid before popping on the lid and placing in the oven. Cook for 3 - 3 1/2 hours stirring every hour or so to ensure the meat remains submerged in the cooking liquor and doesn't dry out.
- If you feel the liquid is reducing too much, simply add a splash of boiling water, however try not to add any liquid in the last 20 - 30 minutes of cooking to allow the sauce to thicken. Season as necessary.
- Whilst the meat is in the oven, make the puree. Peel and dice the potatoes and place in a pan of salted boiling water and cook for 15 minutes or until soft. Peel and roughly dice the celeriac into 3cm cubes and place in a saucepan. Pour in the milk ensuring the celeriac is fully covered. Add the nutmeg and bay leaves, place over a moderate heat and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 10 - 15 minutes until the celeriac in cooked all the way through.
- Drain the potatoes before placing in a blender. Remove the bay leaves from the celeriac and milk before also pouring them both into the blender. Blitz the potato and celeriac together to form a smooth, silky puree. Season generously.
- When the meat is tender and sauce thickened, shred the meat into the thick gravy using two forks.
- To serve, spoon a generous helping of celeriac puree into the the bottom of the bowl then top with the pulled beef cheek meat and beer gravy, along with a few greens on the side.
By Helen Upshall