Braised Beef Cheek

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the first time i had beef cheek was at an excellent cabin of a restaurant/pub in williamsburg. i immediately fell in love. beef cheek is a rare ingredient that may scare folks away at first. don't be scared by it. it's probably the most tender cut of beef you can possibly have. completely melts in your mouth when cooked right. it may be hard to find, but worth the search. if you absolutely can't find it, or you are too chicken to give it a try, brisket can be used in its place. although brisket is tender too, i assure you, it is nothing like beef cheek. 

i wanted to try a few different things in this braise. instead of a traditional wine braise (which could easily be adapted for this recipe), i wanted something a little sweeter and unusual, so i went with a fortified wine. my go to sweet vermouth is always cocchi vermouth di torino. there is no substitute in my mind. it will change your negroni for the better, fyi. i also introduced probably my favorite ingredient of all time: black garlic, sometimes, but rarely, called fermented garlic. it has a nice caramelized, almost molasses like flavor to it. again, this is a hard ingredient to find but becoming more popular and may be found at some whole foods or online. regular garlic may also be used in this recipe if you can't find black garlic, but i would add a tablespoon of molasses, added right after you saute the vegetables, and before you add the vermouth. 

now on to the good stuff!

Braised Beef Cheek

Ingredients:

  • 2 beef cheeks (approximately 1 lbs each)
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • 1 cup diced carrot
  • 1 cup diced leek
  • 5 cloves black garlic
  • 3 star anise
  • 5 cloves
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 Tbs olive oil (or butter)
  • 1 quart beef stock
  • 1 1/2 cups sweet vermouth

Directions:

pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.

pat dry beef cheeks and salt and pepper each side and set aside. in a dutch oven pot heat oil (or melt butter) over medium heat. place beef cheeks in pot and brown on all sides. take out of pot and let rest on a plate.  place onions, carrots, leeks, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, star anise, and clove into pot. and a pinch of salt and fresh cracked pepper. saute for about 4 minutes, letting the onions sweat. once onions begin turning translucent, add vermouth and bring to a simmer, about 1 minute, stirring constantly. add beef cheeks back into pot.  add beef broth, enough to cover the beef cheeks (water can be added as well to insure the cheeks get submerged as best they can). bring liquid to a boil, about 5 minutes. cover with a lid and place in oven until tender, approximately 4 hours. turn cheeks halfway through cooking.

while this is cooking you can make the celery root puree and mushroom & kale topping. (recipes below)

once cooked, remove beef cheeks, cover and rest. strain vegetables from the liquid, reserving the liquid and discarding the vegetables and spices. add liquid to a sauce pan on medium to high heat and begin to reduce until half.

to plate, place a dollop or mound of celery root puree (as much as you'd like) onto a plate. quarter the beef cheeks and place one piece on top of the puree. garnish with mushrooms and kale. pour a slight amount of the reduction over the meat. 

Celery Root Puree

Ingredients:

  • 2 celery roots (approximately 1 lbs each, diced into 1 inch cubes)
  • 1 russet potato (peeled and diced into 1 inch cubes)
  • 1 small onion (peeled and quartered)
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 3 cups water
  • 4 Tbs butter
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

bring milk and water with a pinch of salt to a boil in a large stock pot. reduce heat to a simmer and add vegetables, cooking until tender, about 30 minutes. drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Place butter, pinch of salt and pepper, and cooked vegetables into a high powered blender. begin to blend, adding a little bit of liquid at a time if needed to help blend the vegetables. blend until it reaches the consistency of creamy mashed potatoes. add more salt if needed. puree is best served warm.

celery root puree can be made a day in advance and reheated on the stove, adding a bit more liquid if needed to re-heat. 

Mushroom & Kale Topping

Ingredients:

  • 2 large handfuls of shiitake mushrooms (sliced) (approximately a pound)
  • 1/2 bunch of lacinato kale (diced into 1-2 inch pieces)
  • 1/2 leek (diced)
  • 2 Tbs butter
  • 4 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 Tbs balsamic vinegar 
  • salt and pepper

Directions:

in a saute pan heat half the olive oil in a pan and add the leeks. add a pinch of salt and let sweat and cook until tender and begin to brown slightly, about 10 minutes. transfer to a bowl. add remaining oil and saute kale until it wilts and get crispy on some of the edges, about 7 minutes. transfer to bowl with leeks. add butter to pan and melt. add sliced mushrooms with a pinch of salt and pepper. cook, stirring occasionally,  until mushrooms lose some of their moisture and pan begins to dry, about 15 minutes. add balsamic vinegar and bowl of leeks and kale and saute for an additional minute or two. add more vinegar or salt and pepper to taste.