REMEMBER when every other menu you looked at had butternut squash on the starters and lamb shanks on the mains?
Any chef worth his or her salt could turn them into an irresistible dish – lustrous soup, fall off the bone meat – with a minimum of effort and pennies.
Then as I remember, it was pork or ham hocks.
Now chefs have discovered beef cheeks. Cook ’em low and slow for three or four hours, some do it for even more ( you hardly need any gas on the stove top ) and they transform into melting moments so tender they fall apart at the touch of a knife.
Superb, complete with their own broth, with mashed potatoes or turned into a ragu.
They come with a pretty high mark up but you can get pretty much the same result (minus the cheffy twist perhaps) at home.
I have not seen them on sale in supermarkets so you need a good butcher. When I first saw them on the slab at Ralph Thickitt, Sharrowvale Road, Sheffield, and heard the price I had to have a go.
Make sure they have been properly trimmed of sinew and fat. If they are not ( my last purchase were obligingly yanked out of the chiller for me ) finish the job yourself. You can melt down the trimmings to give you enough fat to seal them off in the pan or casserole.
Then set them aside and saute off finely chopped vegetables, an onion, garlic, a couple of carrots and stalks of celery with some herbs: bay, thyme and sage and whatever takes your fancy.
Then when they are nicely translucent pop the beef cheeks on top ( about one per person or halve them like I did for us) and cover with a couple of glasses of red wine and beef stock ( a cube and a shake of soy in my case).
Once it’s up to a simmer put the lid on and leave it, apart for the odd stir, for three or four hours. Test for doneness with the point of a knife.
Then take out the meat, remove the bay and liquidise the broth. You have now got a superb sauce for little effort.
Serve with mash and your favourite vegetables. We like buttered cabbage and carrots.
Of course, you can add all sorts of embellishments for extra unctiousness, perhaps a spoonful of redcurrant or fruit jelly or an anchovy or two.
These would be ideal for dinner parties. Like all stews and curries, this dish improves with a little keeping. They are just reheated in their sauce, gently, until piping hot.
Serve whole unless your guests are like my wife and don’t like chunks. They can be sliced. And the cheeks freeze well.
Don’t worry if they don’t look as if they won’t all fit in the pan at the outset. They will have once you have seared them off.
“I suppose this is what you might call boiled beef and carrots?” said my wife after a beef c,heek Sunday dinner.
I thought about it and laughed. She was right. A de-luxe version, though.
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