Stuffed with mushrooms and given a long, slow braise beef (or ox) cheeks become soft, succulent and packed with flavour. A lip-smacking example of nose to tail eating.
I feel if I’m going to eat meat I owe it to the animal not to waste anything and like a lot of so-called forgotten cuts, beef cheeks have had a long overdue revival.They’re still fairly economical.
What follows is an adaptation of a recipe from Eliza Acton’s brilliant Modern Cookery, first published in 1845. It is the latest in my occasional series of historical recipes and as the beef cheeks had been lurking in my freezer for longer than I’d like, it also qualifies as part of my ongoing #givingupstockingup efforts.
Beef cheeks are best sourced from a good butcher, who will trim them up for you if asked nicely. One should serve two people very generously. I don’t have a slow cooker but this recipe should be adaptable if you do.
My original intention was to sieve the cooking juices, thicken them, and whisk in a knob of butter for gloss. But the veg looked and tasted so good I decided to leave everything in and serve the stuffed beef cheeks sitting on top, a bit like a deconstructed stew. The choice is, as ever, yours.
You will need skewers for this, unless you have a barding needle and can sew the stuffed cheeks closed. Secure them as best you can but it’s not the end of the world if some of the stuffing escapes – it thickens the sauce rather nicely.
For sides, think along the lines of what you’d eat with a regular beef stew. I favour celeriac mash and something fresh and green, like broccoli.
Beef Cheeks with Mushroom Stuffing
2 beef cheeks, trimmed of any silvery membrane
200g chestnut mushrooms
Salt and pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne
A pinch of ground mace and a rasp of nutmeg
Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
1 egg yolk
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
2 sticks of celery, trimmed and roughly chopped
2 tbsp oil
Approx 300ml beef stock or 50/50 beef stock and red wine
Start by making the stuffing. Roughly chop the mushrooms and fry in batches in the butter, sprinkled with salt and pepper, until they’ve given up most of their moisture.
Chop finely and mix with the breadcrumbs, spices, lemon juice and zest and bind with the egg yolk. Set aside in the fridge – you can prep this a day ahead if necessary.
Heat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas Mark 2.
Take the beef cheeks and with a sharp knife, slit a deep pocket into the longer, thicker side of each one, being careful not to cut all the way through. Stuff generously with the mushroom mixture and skewer it securely. Season with salt and pepper.
Heat 2 tbs of oil in an oven-proof casserole with a tight-fitting lid, one which will fit the meat in a single layer. Brown the meat on both sides then remove to a plate.
Put the chopped onion, celery and carrot in the base of the casserole and lay the meat on top. Pour the stock or stock/wine mixture around the beef, to just cover the veg.
Wet some baking paper, crumple it up and then unfold it again. Lay this cartouche over the meat. Fold kitchen foil over the top of the cooking pot then put on the lid.
Place in the oven and cook for around two hours or until tender. Check halfway through the cooking time and add more liquid if it looks as though it’s drying out.
When the meat is done, remove and rest somewhere warm while you finish the sauce, see notes. Remove the skewers from the beef and slice it thickly. Plate up, either pouring over the sauce or serving it in large bowls with the meat on top and additional veg to the side.