Winter Recipe: Braised Beef Cheeks

Photo Credit: SteakSchool.com – click to see their great recipes!

This delicious winter dish used to be considered low-brow, and as a result, beef cheeks were inexpensive. But they became pricey about ten years ago after appearing on upscale winter menus at $35 per serving.  Even so, we found some in Whole Foods’ frozen meat section for $8.99/pound. Given there are no bones and little waste, that ain’t a bad price for pure protein (though the fresh version is preferable).

Sadly, the popularity of Beef Cheeks has made them more difficult to find – there are only two of them per cow, after all – so if your local grocer can’t keep up with demand, these alternative beef options work well:

  • Beef short ribs (boneless – ask your butcher to remove the bones if need be)
  • Pot Roast (Chuck) – may require slightly longer cooking time

BUT, if you have the time to search for the cheeks, you’ll find they assure a great meal. They are falling-apart delicate with a rich and delicious mouthfeel that begs for winter wines! Reach for big, fruit-driven, tannic reds such as Syrah, Zinfandel, the Bordeaux varietals or the reds of Portugal, Spain, Sicily, Calabria, and other warm, Southern climes.

Suggested pairings. Click the image to see all our Winter Wine recommendations.

Ingredients:

▢ 3 Tbsp olive oil
▢ 3 lbs beef cheeks, cut into (roughly) uniform size, if needed
▢ 1 Onion, diced
▢ 1 Celery stalk, diced
▢ 1 Carrot, diced
▢ 4 Garlic cloves, peeled and minced
▢ 6 Stems of fresh thyme, leaves left on stems (or 1.5 tsp dried thyme)
▢ 3 Bay leaves (or 1-2 smallish ones, if using the stronger California Bay)
▢ 1 Cup beef stock
▢ 2 Cups inexpensive (<$10) red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zin, etc.)
▢ 2 – 3 tsp salt
▢ Freshly ground black pepper

Cooking Instructions

  • Remove any large fatty membrane (Note: the silverskin is more easily removed after cooking). Cut beef cheeks into roughly identical sizes if needed, then pat dry and apply salt and pepper liberally to both sides. 
  • Pre-heat your oven to 325. 

 

 

The enamal-covered cast iron pot from Lodge is ideal for this dish, but any heavy-bottom pot wil do if it has a good lid that can prevent the liquids from evaporating.

  • On your stovetop, heat a heavy-bottomed pot over high heat for 2-3 minutes. When at full temperature, add 2Tbsp of the olive oil and immediately add the beef cheeks. Sear for ~3 minutes on the first side, then turn and sear for another 2 minutes. Aggressive, high-heat browning is key to the flavor development on the bottom of the pan – the fond.  You may find this step requires two separate batches to assure each piece of meat makes full contact with the pot – no over-crowding!
  • Once nicely browned on both sides, turn the heat down to Medium and remove the cheeks to a platter. Cover with a tent of foil. 
  • Drizzle a Tbsp of oil into the heated pot and immediately add the onion, carrot and celery, reserving the minced garlic for the next step. Stir lazily until the onion begins to become opaque – about 3-5 minutes.
  • Add the minced garlic and sauté for another 3-5 minutes. 
  • Pour in the 2 cups of wine, scraping the fond from the bottom of the pot with a wooden spatula so it integrates into the liquid. Simmer for a good minute.
  • Return the cheeks to the pot along with any juices they’ve released. Add the remaining ingredients – beef broth, bay leaves and thyme sprigs – then cover the pot with a lid and place in oven for 2.5 hours (or until the meat is very tender), turning once about half way through the total 5-hour cooking time.
  • Some 2.5 hours later, remove the pot from the oven and the beef cheeks from the pot – careful, they may be falling apart – and set them aside again under a tent of foil. BTW, you can turn the oven off now.
  • Now it’s time to reduce the juices – this is where the magic happens!  Discard the thyme sprigs and Bay leaves and use a stick blender to carefully puree the braising liquid (wear an apron, this can be messy) until it becomes lighter in color and a bit frothy and thickened.  Return your pot to the stovetop on med-high and bring to a simmer. Continue reducing for ~5 minutes until it becomes darker in color again and forms the consistency of a light gravy (see photo). 
Shows consistency upon completion (additional Thyme sprigs optional)
  • Remove from the heat, return the cheeks to the sauce along with any of the released juices, cover and keep warm until ready to serve.

Side Dish Suggestions

  • Mashed Potatoes – The classic pairing for this dish is a generous heap of mashed potatoes topped by the beef cheeks and plenty of sauce.
    • Alternative A: Polenta
    • Alternative B: Creamy mashed cauliflower (recipe here)
  • Sauteéd Winter Greens: with garlic and bacon
    • Alternative: Roasted Brussels Sprouts
  • Whole  Maple-and-Brown-Sugar Roasted Carrots – no recipe needed, just roast the whole (the smaller the better) well-scrubbed carrots, the greens trimmed to within an inch of the top, at 400 degrees for 20 – 30 min. Toss with olive oil before roasting and Maple syrup immediately after roasting. Add a pinch of cayanne or garlic powder or herbs, as you wish!

Gourmet Macaroni n’ Cheese with Pecans and Truffle Oil

This dish was a huge hit among my skeptical tasters.  The first thing you have to do is delete the memories of our childhood “Mac and Cheese” – the orange-coated pasta that came inside the blue box for about 30 cents (back then).  Yes, they’re both comfort food dishes for the Fall / Winter months.  But other than that they’re as different as an iPhone and a telegram.

Try this dish with a full-bodied wine with nice acidity – cool climate Pinot, blends from the Northern Rhone, even un-or-lightly-oaked Chardonnay from solid producers.  The pecans and truffle oil provide a great bridge to the wine, while the salty bacon plays to the wine’s fruitiness and the herbs work with the wines minerality.

Ingredients

6 Small ramekins, buttered and set aside 2 Tbsp flour
3 Tbsp Kosher salt 1 1/2 Cups heavy cream (or cut with up to 1/2 with whole milk or Half-and-Half)
8 Ozs (1/2 lbs) Penne pasta 1 Tbsp minced basil
1 Tbsp truffle oil 1/3 tsp minced thyme, plus one sprig for each ramekin
2 Tbsp shallots, minced White pepper to taste
3 – 4 Ozs Applewood smoked bacon, minced 3 Cups white, sharp cheddar, chilled and shredded
1-2 Cloves minced garlic ½ Cup pecans, chopped
2 Tbsp butter 1 Cup cheddar, chilled and shredded

Procedure

Heat oven to 350 and put on a gallon of cold water to boil.  When it reaches a rolling boil, add the 3 Tbsp salt.  Add pasta, stir, and boil for 5 – 6 minutes, then turn off heat and drain water through a colander.  Pasta will be very under-done, but don’t worry.  Drain pasta for a minute, gently shaking off excess water, turn into in a bowl and add the truffle oil.  Stir and set aside.

Heat a 4-qt stock pot over med-low heat for a couple minutes, add the butter and when melted, add the shallots and bacon and cook for 7 minutes, stirring periodically.  Add the garlic and cook another 2-3 minutes.  Stirring constantly, add the flour and cook over medium heat for 2 minutes.  While still stirring, slowly add the cream, then raise the heat until cream almost boils.  Reduce heat to low and cook another 10 minutes.

Add the basil, thyme and pepper and once combined well, add the white cheddar cheese, stirring until smooth.  Add the pasta and combine.  It will gloppy.  Don’t worry, it does that.

Distribute evenly across ramekins, top with shredded cheddar and chopped pecans and bake for 10 -15 minutes or until browned on top.  Serve with sprig of fresh thyme on top.

Pairings – For lunch, brunch or light dinners serve with a side salad dressed simply with really good olive oil and a pinch of sea salt.  Add garlic crouton (drizzle sliced bread with olive oil, pinch of salt, hot oven till dried, swipe once with peeled garlic clove) and you’re happy.

Perfect Pairing – Malbec with Slow-Cooked Lamb Stew

Because of the slow cooking, the lamb practically melts in your mouth.  Which is reason enough to try it, but it also boasts an earthiness that I like with a good Argentinian Malbec.  One of the nice things about Malbecs from Argentina’s Mendoza region is their affordability.  But sadly, their quality is inconsistent, so be sure to confer with a trusted wine merchant for a recommendation before parting with the $20 or so you’ll need to find a good one.

Ingredients (Serves 6+)
 2 Lbs lamb shank
 10 small onions
 4 Cups water
 5 tomatoes – blanched, peeled and chopped (or one can organic chopped tomatoes)
 2 Sprigs fresh parsley
 2 Sprigs fresh thyme
 2 cloves garlic, chopped
 2 Bay leaves
 2 (15 Oz) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
 1 pound cubed ham3 Sweet Italian sausages

Procedure
Boil the lamb in the four cups of water until it’s falling-off-the-bone tender.  Remove from heat but RESERVE THE LAMB BROTH for later. Once the lamb has cooled, cut into bite-sized cubes/pieces.

Using a generous square of cheesecloth (photo), secure the parsley, thyme and bay leaf with kitchen twine, leaving a long leash on the garni, so you can easily pull it from the stew later.  Place the herb bundle, the lamb, ham, onions, tomato and garlic in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Add the reserved lamb broth and enough water to equal four cups. Bring to a boil and then reduce to low and simmer for an hour.

Meanwhile, remove the sausage meat from the casings and brown lightly, breaking up into fork-sized crumbles. Remove sausage from heat, drain off fat, and reserve.

Drain and rinse the beans and set aside.  After the stew has simmered for an hour, stir in the beans and sausage and continue to simmer for about 15 minutes, or more if you want a thicker consistency.

The deep flavors of this dish work very well with the tannin and fruitiness of the Malbec, both of which offer warm comfort on a winter evening.

Cheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant

Eileen’s “Dead Easy” Leg of Lamb

My wife and I enjoy a wide variety of people, but especially those who appreciate good food.  This dish always reminds us of Jeff & Eileen, our two foodie friends who introduced us to it, and it to us.

Their recipe works on many levels – it’s dead easy and affordable, it fills the house with the enticing aromas of garlic and Rosemary, and it tastes fantastic.

This highly seasoned dish calls for an earthy red wine, though frankly, it’s not that picky about what type – a wide variety of varietals will compliment this warm winter dish.  Try a Monastrell (AKA Mourvedre), a good red from the North of Italy, or a cool-climate pinot noir.

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Ingredients
3 ½ – 4 lbs bone-in leg of lamb
2-3 Cloves garlic, peeled
1 Oz Sea salt
1 Tbsp olive oil
3-5 Rosemary sprigs,about 6 inches long

Procedure
Pre-heat oven to 375℉.  Using the flat side of a broad knife (or any convenient and flat surface) smash the garlic on your cutting board.  Using the oil and salt as grit, chop and mash the garlic into a paste, then spread evenly on lamb and rub.  Place the meat on a wire rack in a roasting pan (OK, do as I say, not as done in the photo!) with about an inch of water and the Rosemary sprigs in the bottom of the pan.  Put in oven and set timer 15 minutes per pound plus 15 minutes (ex. – a 4 pound roast would get 4 X 15 = 60, plus the extra 15 = 1 hour, 15 minutes).  This simple timing formula produces a roast leg with a nicely pink center and some nice crusty bits at the ends for those who prefer their meat with less (or no) color.  Remove from oven, cover, and allow to sit for 15 minutes before carving.

Serve with roasted potatoes and a green vegetable.  Pairs well with a variety of red wines, though I prefer those with a bit of earthiness, such as pinotnoir, Mourvedre (Monastrell),  or most red wines of Northern Italy.

Cheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant

Cabernet Sauvignon & Slow-Cooked Prime Rib

Standing Rib RoastA standing rib roast (AKA “Prime Rib”) is a classic dish for the Christmas Holiday, but I love it all winter long.  This recipe is a little time consuming (despite being quite easy to prepare) and it’s expensive, so if you’re like me, the risk of failure discourages this item from appearing on your home menu with regularity.

But Superwife and I have discovered a fool-proof method that perfectly renders your prime rib every time – nice and crusty on the outside, and moist and butter-tender on the inside.  The first thing to note is the most critical step occurs long before cooking actually begins – and this step is critical – you’ll need to dry your meat in the refrigerator for 3 – 5 days, so plan ahead!

Ingredients (Serves 6 – 8)

1 Standing rib roast (~7 lbs).  Ask for the ‘First Cut’ or ‘Loin End’

1 Roll of Kitchen Twine (a food-grade string available in most good grocery stores)

Salt and pepper

A roasting pan and meat rack

Procedure

5 Days Before Serving – Buy your roast of choice.  Tie it with Kitchen Twine, looping the twine around the roast and in between each of the bones (see photo).  Dry the roast in your refrigerator for 3-5 days, if possible.  This adds flavor and makes the prime rib more tender.

7 ½ Hours Before Serving – Remove from refrigerator and let come to room temperature for three hours.  Trim excess fat and any bits of meat that are fully de-hydrated.

4 Hours Before Serving – Position oven racks so your roast can sits in the vertical middle of your oven.  Heat oven to 200 degrees (yes, trust me, this works perfectly and is safe and you’ll be thrilled with the result).  Wash the roasting pan and heat for three minutes over two burners on Medium-High.  Coat pan with olive oil and brown meat on all sides.  Season with salt and pepper.

In the pan, set the rack under the roast and place in oven.  Cook for 30 minutes per pound or until internal temperature reaches 130 (for medium-rare) in its meatiest center.

30 Minutes before serving – Remove from oven and place roast on cutting board.  Allow to rest for 20 minutes before carving.  This step is critical.  The extra ten minutes are allocated for carving and plating.

Time To Serve! – Cut the string and place the roast on a cutting board with the bones sticking straight up.  Use a carving fork to push the meat away from the bones while using a carving knife to separate the bones from the meat – save them to gnaw on after your guests go home.  Rotate the roast until it is cut-side down then slice across the grain to desired thickness.

Cheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant
dave@sidewayswineclub.com
866-746-7293

Syrah with Coca-Cola Braised Short Ribs

Luella restaurant san franciscoThe day before Leslie became Superwife, we held a rehearsal dinner at a San Francisco restaurant called Andalu, where their specialty dish – cola-braised short ribs – was among the night’s most popular dishes.  Several years later, Andalu’s founding chef, Ben Devries, left to start a restaurant named Luella, and has enjoyed great success there as well.  Ben and his wife have made Sunday nights at Luella into family nights, with a separate menu for kids, while maintaining a full menu for the parents.

About that time, Ben and his wife, enrolled their daughter in the same school our daughter attends.  So he and I sometimes find ourselves watching school events from the sidelines, as we discuss the latest trends affecting our livelihoods.

Here’s the Devries-inspired recipe for Coke-braised short ribs – a perfect pairing for Syrah (click here to view my current inventory of compatible wines for this dish).  It is simple and delicious, but it does take some time…

 

Ingredients (Serves 6)

RIBS PICKLED ONIONS
4 Lbs pork ribs 1 Red onion, halved and sliced
Salt & Pepper ¾ Cup red wine vinegar
1 Liter Coca-Cola 2 Tbsp sugar
2 Quarts Chicken Stock Water to cover

 

 

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Procedure

Preheat your oven to 400.  Season the ribs with salt and pepper. Heat a deep roasting pan over high heat for three minutes, add oil and sear the meat until golden brown on all sides – about 7 minutes total. Remove the ribs from the pan and set aside.  With the pan still on high heat, add the Coke and reduce by ⅔.  Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Return meat to the liquid, cover and put in a 400 degree oven for 2 hrs or until meat falls off the bone.

Remove from the oven and let rest, preferably overnight. Reheat in a 400 degree oven until hot.  Remove meat from the pan, place remaining sauce on stove top at medium heat and reduce until syrupy. Return ribs to sauce until ready to serve.

PICKLED RED ONIONS
Place all ingredients in sauce pot, bring to a boil, and turn down to a simmer for 5 mins.
Take off flame and let cool. To make sharper add more vinegar; to make sweeter, add more sugar.

TO SERVE:
Place ribs over a bed of mashed potatoes and top with pickled red onions.  Serve with Syrah or other Rhône-style wine.

Cheers!
Dave the Wine Merchant
Dave@SidewaysWineClub.com