At the restaurant, we love to slow cook delicious, tender beef cheeks until they almost melt in your mouth. They are always popular with our guests, especially during the winter months when there is a little chill in the air. Sometimes we’ll cook them sous vide style and although it’s a very technical, clean method of cooking, but I must admit that I much prefer them when we cook them in a classical stock with red wine, herbs and root vegetables as it imparts so much flavour the final dish.
Stewing and braising are the quintessence of good home cooking. Rich comfort food with robust flavours in the shape of pot roasts, casseroles, hot pots and stews, cooked slowly to create memorable dishes that are also economical.
There is a myth that slow cooking is a lot of bother and takes too much time. The reality is that braising can be quick and easy to produce, leaving you time to get on with other things while the meat is cooking and tempting you with al those fabulous aromas that float around the kitchen.
Without getting too technical, I’ll try to explain a few basic principals for braising and stewing. Firstly, I think that the flavour of the finished dish is improved enormously if you take a bit of time and trouble when browning the meat. If you’re using small pieces of meat, as in a stew, make sure you brown them in batches, over a hot flame, so the meat doesn’t steam. The temperature must be high enough to trigger the browning process. Contrary to popular opinion, browning, or searing, the surface does not seal in meat’s juices. It does, however, produce new and complex flavour compounds as the sugars and proteins in the meat react under high temperatures and the surface colour deepens. This browning reaction is known as the Maillard reaction.
Aromatic vegetables such as carrots, celery, leeks and onions can also be browned after the meat and you’ll trigger a different type of browning reaction called caramelization, which will also add considerably to the richness of the finished dish.
Liquids, such as wine, beer or stock are also essential for braising because less tender meats have greater amounts of collagen. This is a connective tissue that needs prolonged exposure to heat to break it down, the higher the cooking temperature, the tougher the muscle fibres become so make sure it never boils. Cooking temperatures should be just high enough to kill microorganisms, yet not so high that the meat toughens.
Braising at low temperatures can never be done in a hurry. So take your time, be patient and you will be richly rewarded with tender, succulent meat, deep flavours and some amazing aromas. Happy Cooking!
BRAISED BEEF CHEEKS WITH BLACK OLIVES & SUN DRIED TOMATOES
Always one of our most popular dishes at the restaurant, these beef cheeks are unbelievably tender with a really big, delicious flavour.
Ingredients: Serves 6-8
1.5kl Beef cheeks, trimmed & cleaned
125g sun dried tomatoes, chopped
20 baby onions or shallots (peeled)
20 black olives, stoned
2tbsp. Tomato puree
1litre beef stock
100m olive oil
10 basil leaves, torn
For the marinade:
500ml Red wine
1 large onion (roughly chopped)
3 garlic cloves (crushed)
2 carrots (peeled and chopped)
A sprig of fresh thyme
A sprig of fresh rosemary
Place the beef cheeks in a large bowl and add all the ingredients for the marinade. Leave to marinate in the refrigerator overnight.
Drain the meat from the marinade and pat dry with kitchen towel. Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pan and brown the beef cheeks on all sides. Stir in the flour and tomato puree. Add the ingredients from the marinade and pour over the beef stock. Cover with a lid and simmer gently for 3 hours, removing any fat and impurities that rise to the surface during the cooking.
Heat a little oil in small frying pan and sauté the baby onions until golden brown. Stir them into the stew and cook for a further 30 minutes. Add the chopped sun-dried tomatoes, black olives and basil leaves. Season to taste and cover again with a tight fitting lid. Open the pot at the table to enjoy the wonderful aroma of braised beef & with black olives & sun-dried tomatoes and serve with potato puree.