Sunday, 19 April 2009

Ox Cheeks

Had friends round for dinner last night and I had decided to try Ox Cheeks. I wasn't sure whether I'd be able to eat them but, I kept telling myself, it's just beef from a different bit of the cow. I don't eat Offal (well, except Haggis, which is liver-ish but well spiced, and I eat it with lots of mashed potato and mashed carrots & swede) because I don't like the smell or texture of Liver or Kidney , and I wasn't sure whether this fell into that category.

I used the recipe from the Donald Russell website. It was for four cheeks, but here I encountered my first query. The packs from Donald Russell each had two cheeks in, so four cheeks was 2 packs. Byt each pack was 800g of very lean meat - so this would mean 1.6kg for four....surely that couldn't be right?

On the DR website it stated that each 800g pack fed 2-3, so I used both packs. However, the quantities for the other ingredients listed didn't seem enough at all, so I increased them considerably.

The first step was searing the cheeks until they were caramelised. Now, I have a fantastic and enormous hob-to-oven pan, but I had to sear the cheeks in batches. And when they coloured, they went that sort of khaki colour that Liver goes. It did not bode well.

I absolutely detest liver. I remember being forced to eat it at school, and now even the smell of it makes me heave. I have tried it since - my DH and one of my best friends both adore liver and say that home made is nothing lie the school carp - but as soon as I bit into it...well, I've given up.

Followed the rest of the recipe, and everntually got the cheeks into the oven, where they had to cook for 2.5 hours. I checked them twice, and after the first checking (at one hour) they looked completely different and the sauce looked wonderfully unctuous.

They were fantastic! I can't believe it. Really tender, really delicious, texture was like any oher braised steak. We ate nearly all of it, it could have served 5 easily, 6 for small appetites.

So here's the recipe with my adaptations:
4 Ox cheeks (I used Donald Russell, 2 packs of 2 cheeks totalling 1.6kg)
Salt & Pepper
Olive oil

2 carrots, cut into small sticks
2 onions, sliced
2 stalks of celery, sliced fairly thin
200ml port

1.5 or 2 tins of chopped tomatoes (I saved the laf tin to use on Bruschetta)
About 1 litre of beef stock (I used a can of Waitrose Beef Consomme, plus 600ml beef stock)
150 to 200ml Balsamic vinegar (don't use the really cheap stuff)
3 large sprigs of rosemary

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees (150 deg fan oven, Gas 3, or equivalent). Make sure the Ox CHeeks have come to room temperature, then pat them dry with kitchen towel. I had to cut some of the cheeks, as they had sort of flappy bits which meant it would be hard to brown all over. However, keep them as largish pieces, don't be tempted to cut them small as they will just disappear in the cooking process.

Heat about 2 tablespoons of the oil in a very large flameproof casserole, or hob-to-oven pan, until it's very hot. Sear the cheek pieces all over until tehy are brown and slightly caramelised. I had to do this in two batches, and I added some extra oil at the end. When done, remove to a plate. Don't worry about the mountain of meat in front of you. Some of it will disintegrate into the sauce anyway.

Add the onions, celert and carrots to the pan and cook at a lower heat for about 6 mins, turning them frequently. Towards the end of the time, turn the heat back up again. When they are done, pour in the port in one go, it will bubble rapidly and steam, and this will deglaze the pan. Turn the heat down, and let the liquid reduce until it's almost all gone.

Now add the remainder of the ingredients and stir, then put the cheeks back in the pan. Try and cover them with liquid as much as possible. Bring to the boil, and once it's simmering al over put the lid on, and transfer to the oven.

Cook in the oven for at least two hours, preferably 2 and a half. I checked the dish at 1 hour and 1 and a half hours in case the meat needed turning. (It needed a bit of adjustment at one hour, but it was fine when I did the second check).

We served it with mashed potatoes to soak up the lovely sauce, and roasted vegetables.

Leftover "gravy" can be saved and frozen and used as a rich beefy gravy for other meals.

Definitely one for my recipe book!

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