Monday, 22 July 2013

A cheeky little number

This blog comes to you courtesy of the tectonic plates that pass beneath Cook Strait, between the North and South Islands of New Zealand.  They’ve been releasing a bit of friction via earthquakes, or “shakes”, as we refer to them, in an attempt to minimise their potential for ripping apart lives and buildings.  The 6.5 magnitude shake yesterday means that we can’t return to work until buildings have been checked and cleared.  Happily, the damage appears to be largely cosmetic, so we have not needed to spend the day cleaning up, but can approach the “to do” list…

A couple of weeks’ ago, I went to the friendly neighbourhood butcher, intending to buy some oxtail.  We were heading to Tora on the Wairarapa Coast with a couple of other families, and Friday night dinner was our responsibility.  But, there was only one oxtail available – not nearly enough for the hungry crew – so I found myself at home with beef cheeks.

Now if you find yourself in possession of beef cheeks, you’ll see immediately that they are layered with the toughest, most fibrous, white connective tissues you have ever seen.  Ignore these.  Really.  Just pretend you never saw them.  But remember that you’ll be cooking them for around 5 hours, so plan ahead!

Beef cheeks braised in red wine
Makes enough to feed 6-8

2kg beef cheeks, chopped in large chunks – depending on how they arrive, this may be in half or in quarters, but no smaller than the palm of your hand

6-8 cloves garlic
2 tbsp juniper berries
Sea salt
Fresh bay leaves (4-5)
Fresh rosemary, leaves stripped from the stalks
Olive oil
Red wine
Rind of 2 oranges, peeled with no white pith

In a mortar and pestle, pound together the garlic, juniper berries, salt and pepper.  Add the bay leaves and rosemary and give them a few thumps to bruise them and release their aroma.  Add about ½ cup of red wine, the juice of one of the oranges and a few good glugs of olive oil (¼  cup?).  Add the beef cheeks and leave to marinade for a day or two in the fridge.

For cooking
Olive oil
2 large onions, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 large carrots, finely chopped
A bottle of red wine (you may not need all of it!)
1 litre beef stock
Juice of 1-2 oranges
Redcurrent/quince jelly
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 150 C.

Drain the beef (keeping the marinade, herbs and peel).  Brown in batches in oil and transfer to a large casserole dish.  Deglaze the pan with about ½ a bottle of red wine, scraping up any browned pieces of beef and bubble vigorously for 5 minutes.  Pour over the beef.

In a clean pan, add more olive oil and soften the onion.  Add the carrots and celery and gently cook until softened, then add about 2 C of beef stock, the orange juice, the reserved marinade and 2 tbsp of fruit jelly.  Pour over the beef.  Pop into the oven and cook for 3 hours (this is not the total cooking time, but you can safely ignore them for 3 hours).

At this stage, you can take them out and freeze them, or leave them in the fridge if you are preparing them a few days in advance.  If you do this, let them come up to room temperature, then cook in the oven for 30 mins, until they are nicely warmed.

Check the beef cheeks, give them a good stir and add more wine and stock, in roughly equal quantities, so that the juices just cover the beef.  The beef will still be quite tough at this stage.  Cook for another hour, then check again, taste the juices and adjust for seasonings.  Add more stock and/or wine if necessary.  After another hour check again – when ready, the beef will be meltingly tender – it will sit happily while vegetables are prepared.
I have to confess that I completely forgot to photograph the finished product, these photos are of my mother's version of beef cheeks provided midway through the series of shakes that we've been having - slightly different recipe, but just as melt-in-the-mouth good!

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