In the old days, ox cheeks were unceremoniously thrown in any old stew and cooked for a very long time. These days beef cheeks have begun appearing on restaurant menus as a must-have new food to try. They are now positively trendy.
But not trendy enough to reveal to my family, who over recent weeks have become suspicious about every meal I cook in case it should reveal tongue, brains or liver. So I chose to hide it in a dish no family can resist – a good old meat pie.
Beef cheeks – as you probably guessed – are the facial cheek muscle of a cow. They are a very tough and lean cut of meat and are most often used in recipes for braising or slow cooking to produce a tender result.
I was a bit worried when I chopped them up, as it took some effort to get the knife through, but they needed no more slow cooking than any other stewing beef. And the effort was worth it.
The morsels of meat melt in your mouth and I think they taste better than gravy beef or chuck steak, which you might normally use in a casserole. And at $7.99 per kg at my local butcher they are a great budget buy. So no need to tell the family what you’re cooking, because if they’re anything like mine they’ll be delighted and astounded at how delicious your beef cheek pie is.
Beef Cheek Pie
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 celery stick, diced
¼ cup flour, seasoned with salt and pepper in a bag
1kg beef cheeks, cut into bite-sized pieces
½ cup red wine
Beef or chicken stock or water to cover meat (about 1 litre)
Bouquet garni (A bouquet garni is a bundle of fresh herbs tied together that’s put in stews and soups. I used a stalk of rosemary, four stalks of thyme, two bay leaves and four sage leaves.)
Two sheets frozen puff pastry
Gently saute the onion and garlic in olive oil, then add the chopped carrot and celery. Cook over moderate heat until fragrant and the onion is clear.
Fill a bag with the seasoned flour, then add the beef cheeks and shake to coat. Place beef pieces a handful at a time into the pot and brown gently.
When meat is browned, add wine, then stock or water to cover.
Add the bouquet garni and put on the pot lid. Cook on the stovetop on low heat for three hours, or put in a pressure cooker for 20 minutes on high.
When the meat is cooked, roll out one thawed pastry sheet to fit your pie dish. Grease pie dish with butter and place pastry inside. Add the beef cheek filling (remove the bouquet garni first). Put a lid of pastry on the top, sealing and crimping the edges all around. Cut a few slashes in the top and brush with beaten egg. Cook at 220ºC for 10 to 15 minutes, until the pastry is brown and puffy. Serve with mashed potatoes and peas.
Note: Puff pastry likes to be cold when you use it so only thaw the sheets for 10 minutes maximum before you start using it. It should still be quite cold and stiff when you begin rolling.