Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Beef Cheeks - braised in cider and Mexican drinking chocolate

Winter, slow cooked braises, deep piles of mashed potatoes enhanced with garlic and mustard, glorious deep tastes and satisfaction.

Moore Wilson's have started selling packs of Beef Cheeks and for some reason people appear to be walking past them. Not me, I read the posts on northern blogs, this is a cut of meat destined for the stupid price rises we saw a few years back when lamb shanks went from 'I'll throw a few in for the dog" to over $10 for two small sized ones.

Beef Cheeks - these are amazing chunks of meat.

As pieces of meat they are in constant motion when attached to the animal, these muscles are chomping away on those mouthfuls of grass and cud, so they are tough, full of connective tissues and let me tell you, when cutting into dice, take some muscle to do so, even with a good knife.

Just on the matter of knives, I've gone and paid a fair amount of $ for knives over the years, Wusthof, Victorinox etc. and what do I use day in day out?

Kiwi Brand - made in Thailand and they cost me about $5 each for vege knives and the same for small cleaver style shapes. These are thin; don't hold an edge for long, months not years but they are the sharpest and cleanest cutting knives I have ever used.

Yans - next door to A E Prestons in Wellington stock them (not always) and I buy a new set of them about twice a year. Not a bad result for $20 - $25 every 6 months.

I took four cheeks (two packs at approx $6.50 per pack) diced and browned in a non stick pan. Wiped it out and added a sliced red onion, one sliced leek and about six big stalks of flat leaf parsley, leaves chopped roughly and the stalks just tossed in, and two small rosemary stalks.

All of that softened in a puddle of olive oil with a touch of Maldon salt and ground black pepper.

Then rather than the option of red wine I used apple cider (I didn't have any red wine in the house) with a splash of balsamic vinegar as I felt that would melt down to round out over the cooking process and then the slightly offbeat ingredient.

The original recipe called for a can of peeled, seeded tomatoes, I had slightly soft over ripe 'real' tomatoes so just chopped those roughly and tossed into the pot.

According the recipes I was 'following' the additional ingredient was to be drinking cocoa, of course in our house that sort of ingredient doesn't last due to two teenage children with what I can only describe as brutal appetites for sweet drinks, so what to use?

Well when Zoe and I were in Melbourne earlier this year we had dinner at the South American restaurant down the road from where we were staying and Zoe bought some Mexican drinking chocolate which comes in the shape of tablets, wrapped one by one for the perfect delivery of a great hot drink.

The good news is that you can add this once the cooking process has started so when I realised it was in the pantry I was able to add it in.

This is Nestle Abuelita and when you use the vege peeler to scrape the tablet down into the mix it just blends in and combines with the juices to thicken and enhance the dish.

I used my large Le Crueset casserole dish set at the bottom of the oven on about 120 degrees and let it cook stirring only on occasion for over 3 hours, then turned the oven off and let it sit while I got the mash cooking.

To the boiled Agrias I added milk, garlic puree (yes from a tube - I cheat, never claimed to be a purist) and two large teaspoons of seed mustard. This added some bite to the mash to go alongside the unctuous stew and what I thought would be more than enough for the three of us, there's just enough to fill a very small container so next time, double the volume for the whole family so I have some for lunch the next day.

So - Beef Cheeks are something that I'll add into my basket each time I stop by Moore's - toss them into the freezer and when we get (finally) up the mountain later this year, the slow cooker will deliver this (or something like it) for the end of the day when we stagger down the hill craving comfort food.

If you'd like a full recipe (something I don't think is needed as any dish like this is a changeable dish as every piece of meat is different in size as is everything else) and as I've commented above I changed most of what the original recipe called for, then by all means let me know and I'll provide it. But as I've heard said (and like to say myself) cooking is art, and your expression is as valid as mine or anyone else's.

Enjoy whatever version of this you choose to make. I'm thinking that a mix of beef cheeks, brisket steak or even venison could be a great option, a real grunty Italian Primitovo or Aussie Shiraz along with whole garlic cloves or even pearl onions added about half way through the cooking process.
Anyway - whatever - enjoy

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