Beef cheeks are an inexpensive cut of meat, but they pack a huge amount of flavour. Often overlooked at the grocery store or butcher, beef cheeks might have a tough reputation but with a little love and a lot of time, you’ll be guaranteed an incredibly tender and juicy cut of beef. You won’t even need a knife to slice through it.
Here’s how to turn this budget cut of meat into a mouth-watering meal that you and your dinner guests will love.
What are beef cheeks?
As its name suggests, beef cheeks are taken from the facial muscle of the cow. As it is a hard working muscle, beef cheeks are an often tougher cut of meat, which is why they lend themselves to slow cooking.
Beef cheeks contain a fair amount of connective tissue known as collagen. Over time this collagen breaks down and becomes slightly gelatinous, producing a rich, melt-in-your-mouth texture. It’s when you braise them down slowly that you are rewarded with their full flavour.
So how do you cook beef cheeks?
The beauty of this cut is that you can basically do whatever you want with it — as long as it’s submerged in liquid and given ample time to work its magic.
With a texture similar to lamb shanks, beef cheeks work well in a variety of dishes, from tortillas to pappardelle, or served simply on their own with a side of polenta or creamy mash. You can also use beef cheeks in lieu of short ribs — and they’re much cheaper!
Before cooking, trim off any excess fat or sinew around the beef. Although the fibres in the meat will break down over time, the sinew will remain tough and unpleasant, so it’s best to cut off as much of this as possible. If buying beef cheeks from your butcher, they will likely have already done this for you.
Beef cheeks are generally big in size, so we’d recommend one beef cheek per person.
Tip: If your piece has a lot of excess fat or sinew on it, trim this off before you start cooking — it won’t cook out and will remain tough.
- 2 beef cheeks
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 carrot, cut into chunks
- 1 celery stalk, cut into chunks
- Optional: Other aromatics, like leek and garlic
- 2 tbsp of tomato paste, or puree
- 1 cup of red wine
- 3-4 cups of beef stock (enough to cover the beef cheeks)
- A few sprigs of fresh thyme or rosemary
- 2 bay leaves
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- For the sauce, 2 tsp of a thickening agent such as flour, cornflour or arrowroot flour
Cooking Method Options:
Stovetop: On low heat for 3-4 hours
Oven: At 160°C for 3-4 hours
Slow cooker: On low heat for 6 hours or high heat for 4 hours
Just like you would with a steak, pat down the beef cheeks with a paper towel to get rid of any excess liquid. Season with plenty of salt and pepper.
Add a little olive oil into a large heavy-based pot or oven proof casserole dish on high heat. Sear the beef cheeks on both sides until lightly brown and caramelised.
Remove the beef cheeks and set aside. In the same pot, add a little more olive oil and saute the vegetables – onion, carrot, celery, leek or garlic.
Add the tomato paste or puree. Cook this out so you don’t get that raw tomato flavour.
Put the beef cheeks back in the pot. Add in the red wine to deglaze the pan and reduce the heat.
Pour in the stock, enough to cover the beef cheeks completely, and bring the pot to a simmer. Throw in a few fresh thyme or rosemary sprigs, and bay leaves.
Put the lid on the pot or wrap it tightly with foil. Cook the beef cheeks on a low heat for 3-4 hours, or in the oven at 160°C for 3-4 hours. You can also transfer the beef cheeks to a slow cooker and cook on low for about 6 hours or high for 4 hours. Basically just walk away for several hours and let the liquid work its magic.
Once the beef cheeks are ready – you’ll know when you can easily slice through with a spoon – take them out of the pot and set aside.
For the sauce
Remove the vegetable chunks, herb sprigs and bay leaves from the pot.
Strain the beef cooking liquid into a smaller saucepan over a low-medium heat.
Add flour and lower the temperature. Simmer until the sauce reduces and thickens.
To serve, glaze beef cheeks with the sauce.