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Picture of slow braised beef cheeks on polenta

Slow braised Beef Cheeks

What was once an Italian necessity for so many, cucina povera is recognised today for its richness of history, flavour and oh so delectable falling apart textures.

It emerged as a cuisine of the poor, using the cheapest cuts of meat when you could get them, foraging for wild herbs, fruits and vegetables and what you could grow yourself. Using the cheap cuts usually involved long, slow cooking. And this is what gives this cuisine its deep, warming and comforting flavours.

Beef cheeks braised for as long as you can wait are no exception and this recipe, while simple to make, gets its intense flavour and melt in the mouth texture from at least 12 hours’ slow cooking. The longer the better.

Slow braised Beef Cheeks

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Recipe by Marti Cuatt Course: Main course, DinnerCuisine: ItalianDifficulty: Some skill
Makes

6

servings
Prep time

30

minutes
Cooking time

12

hours 

Falling apart beef, full of rich flavours, these slow braised beef cheeks will warm you on the coldest winter nights.

You will need

  • 1.25 kilogram beef cheeks

  • 1/2 cup plain flour, seasoned with salt and pepper

  • 2 large brown onions

  • 5 garlic cloves

  • 2 stalks celery

  • 2 medium sized carrots

  • 2 litres best quality clear beef or chicken stock

  • 2 cups good quality passata or 1 tin good quality Italian tomatoes

  • 2 heaped tablespoons Italian tomato paste

  • 1/2 cup good quality port (optional)

  • 5 fresh bay leaves

  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme

  • 1 sprig fresh sage

  • 2 stalks fresh Italian parsley

  • 6 allspice berries and 1 whole star anise

  • 1/4 cup olive oil

What to do

  • Trim the beef cheeks. Remove excess fat, trim the sinews and if they’re large, cut into hand size pieces. Set aside, covered until ready to use. Heat the beef stock to simmering point and keep warm.
  • Peel the onions and slice into even size rings or cut in half and then slice into half rings. Wash and peel the carrots and cut into rounds. Wash the celery sticks and slice. Peel and roughly chop the garlic.
  • In a large saucepan, gently heat half the olive oil and add the onion, celery, carrot and garlic and fry until the onion is soft and translucent and the vegetables have just started to brown – about 15-20 minutes. Stir frequently.
  • Transfer the vegetables to a pre-warmed slow cooker or if you’re braising in the preparation pan, set the vegetables aside in a bowl. Add the remaining olive oil to the pan.
  • Mix together flour, salt and pepper in a large flat plate or bowl and toss the beef cheeks through it, dusting off each one before placing into the pan you’ve just removed the veggies from. Do a few at a time, but don’t crowd them and fry until browned all over. As they’re done, transfer to the slow cooker or bowl the prepared veggies are waiting patiently in.
  • Once all the cheeks are done and transferred to a pan, pour in a little of the beef stock and stir to loosen the food stuck to the pan, Add the rest of the stock, passata or tin of tomatoes, tomato paste and port. Stir until the liquid comes to a boil and thickens slightly, then pour into the slow cooker. Alternatively, add the vegetables and beef cheeks back to the pan and stir to mix all together.
  • Scatter the fresh bay leaves over the mix and stir through, then using kitchen twine, tie the thyme, sage and parsley together firmly and tuck into the sauce. Place the allspice berries and star anise into a stainless steel ball strainer and bury in the sauce. Season with salt and pepper, then stir well.
  • Place the lid on the slow cooker and set the temperature to HIGH for two hours, before turning down to low and leaving to do its thing. Check and stir after 12 hours if you want to.
  • Alternatively, preheat your oven to 100C – no fan – and place into the oven to let cook overnight, then check and stir after 12 hours and then at 18 hours, remove the little strainer with the spices and turn the temperature up to 120C for the final six hours to develop caramelisation on the edges, which enriches the flavour.
  • If using a slow cooker, at the 18 hour mark, remove the spice strainer and discard the spices. Gently transfer the cheeks and sauce to a stainless steel or cast iron pan and place into a preheated oven at 120C. Avoid using fan forced.
  • Serve when you’re satisfied with the caramelisation and reduction of the sauce, serve on a bed of creamy, cheesy polenta or mashed potato with lightly sauteed zucchini or other greens on the side.
  • Buon Appetito.

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