Beef, or ox, cheeks are perfect for slow cooking, cheap and full of flavour. They’re well worth seeking out. A good butcher should be able to help and you can also ask him/her to trim them up for you, although that’s easy enough to do at home.
I’ve cooked them here with quince and pomegranate in a Persian/Iranian-inspired stew. Meltingly soft meat and a gently spiced, sour/sweet fruity sauce – delicious.This is one of the best things I’ve made this year. My thanks to Zara and Cathie for the inspiration. Social media is great when you’re casting about for ideas.
An important note about the quince – most recipes of this sort will tell you to put the peeled and cored quarters in with the meat at the beginning. If I did this with my ripe quince from the garden they’d dissolve into a mush so I added some, chopped, at the beginning for flavour and the rest later so they retained their shape. I’m afraid it’s impossible to give you accurate guidance on when you should add yours, as it depends on their ripeness and, possibly, their variety, so if you are using rock-hard imported quince you’ll need to use your judgement.
Ox Cheeks with Quince and Pomegranate
2 ox cheeks, about 375g, trimmed and each cut into six even pieces
Salt and pepper
2-3 tbsp extra virgin rapeseed oil, for frying
2 medium onions, peeled and chopped
1/2 tspn ground turmeric
5 green cardamom pods, gently bashed to crack them open slightly
1 tspn ground cumin
1 tspn ground ginger
3″/7.5 cm cinnamon stick
500ml beef stock
300ml pure unsweetened pomegranate juice
1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
3 large quince, peeled, quartered and cored
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tbsp runny honey
Pomegranate seeds and fresh coriander, to garnish
Pre-heat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas Mark 2.
Peel, quarter and core the quince and put them in a large bowl of cold water acidulated with the juice of half a lemon.
Heat the oil in a large deep frying or casserole pan, one with a lid. Season the pieces of ox cheek with salt and pepper and fry on a high heat until brown and caramelised all over. Remove to a plate.
Reduce the heat to medium, add more oil if necessary, and cook the chopped onions until soft and golden. Add the spices and cook gently for a minute or two more. Now pour in the stock, pomegranate juice and pomegranate syrup and allow it all to bubble up and reduce for five minutes.
Dice one of the quinces and add to the pan with the beef and any of its juices. Keep the remaining quarters to add later (but please see note in intro).
Bring the stew to a boil, put on a lid and cook in the oven for two hours, or until the meat is tender, turning the meat at the halfway point. Add the drained quince quarters and the honey and cook for a further 30-40 minutes or until the quince is tender but not breaking up.
If you’re planning to cook this one day to eat the next, stop at this point, cool, cover and refrigerate and finish it just before you want to eat. Bring it back to room temperature before proceeding.
Finally, scoop the beef and (carefully) the quince quarters onto a large plate, put the pan on the stove and reduce the sauce to thicken it, mashing in the diced quince, about 8-10 minutes.
Check the seasoning and add more salt, pepper and/or honey, according to taste. Return the beef and quince quarters to the pan and re-heat gently, making sure they’re well coated with the sauce.
Serve, garnished with pomegranate seeds and fresh coriander, with saffron-infused rice.