This winter seems a bit colder than usual, and OK, I’m going to have to admit that in the Bay Area cold means anything between 40 to 50 degrees. But that still keeps me from wanting to go out, so I find myself just wrapped up on my sofa watching my favorite TV programs.
And while I’m just lazying around, why not let something delicious cook in my oven? These days are the best times for slow braises, and lately one of my favorite things to braise is beef cheeks.
It’s not that easy to find them at markets because, really, every cow only has two cheeks to give. But luckily I can occasionally find them at the farmers markets in frozen packs. I bought two cheeks and made something like a ragu that I can use as a sauce for pasta. The pot I made was more than enough to freeze some for weeknight dinners when all I have to do is warm up the sauce and blend it with my pasta. (I used fresh-made tagliatelle I got at the store because I thought the long flat ribbons would soak up the sauce and can feel so comforting when twirled up into a ball.)
What I’ve found about cooking beef cheeks is that they’re pretty lean and don’t seem to have a lot of fat that you need to skim off. But there are a lot of hidden connective tissues, which provides that extra flavor when cooked slowly and dissolves. Still, some people suggest making a dish like this a day before you eat it to let the excess fat harden in the refrigerator, which makes it remove the next day. Also, the flavors meld more when it’s reheated. So this is a dish you can make on Sunday and have ready to eat for the rest of the week!
Now, back to my shows. 🙂
Beef Cheek Tagliatelle
Makes 4 to 5 servings
Two beef cheeks (about 1.5 to 2 lbs.)
2 cups beef broth
1 cup red wine
1 sweet onion, diced
1 carrot, finely diced
2 celery stalks, finely diced
1 can of plum or whole tomatoes (28 ounces) with juices
1 clove garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1 packet tagliatelle
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
freshly grated pecorino romano
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Trim excess fat from beef cheeks and season with salt and pepper. In a dutch oven or heavy-bottom pot, warm about 2 tablespoons of oil over medium heat on the stove top. Then add onions and cook until they become translucent (about 3 to 5 minutes). Push onions to the side, add a tablespoon of oil if needed, and then add beef cheeks and brown on each side (about 2 to 3 minutes for each side). Depending on your stove, you might want to turn up the heat to medium high to brown. Add wine (and scrape any brown bits from the bottom of the pan) and let cook for about a minute.
In a small bowl, pour out the contents of the tomatoes and squish each tomato with your hands to roughly break them apart. Pour everything into the pot along with the carrots, celery, beef broth, garlic. bay leaf and Worcestershire sauce. Place entire pot into the oven and let cook until the beef cheeks become tender, about 2.5 to 3 hours. When done, remove from oven and with a fork, shred the beef cheeks into bite-size pieces. If your sauce seems too wet, place pot on stove top and cook uncovered on medium heat until sauce thickens. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (Don’t forget to remove the bay leaf before eating.)
In a pot of boiling water, add enough tagliatelle for the number of servings you’re making and cook per the packet’s instruction. Remove and drain, and you can either plate your pasta and scoop the hot beef cheeks over it, or you can do what I do which is to warm my beef cheek sauce in a saute pan and then add my cooked pasta, letting the warm sauce blend with the pasta. Then transfer to a plate. Finish with grated pecorino romano cheese on top and serve.
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