Beef cheek is easily one of the most tender and flavoursome cuts of beef, but many worry about cooking it due to the amount of time it takes to cook and prepare. Our latest Back to Basics guide is here to help demystify beef cheeks.
As part of our Back to Basics series, we’re looking at some common ingredients to help make sure our readers are making the most of the great produce that we have access to here in Ireland. Previously we looked at scallops, housekeeper’s cut of beef and chicken thighs; today we're looking at beef cheek.
Beef is so popular here in Ireland that the average person consumes around 19kg per year, which adds up to about a total of around 87,000 tonnes of beef a year in total! The nutritional value of beef cannot be underestimated; it’s a great source of protein, as well as providing iron, zinc, vitamins A and D, as well as other nutrients.
Irish beef is renowned for its quality and a lot of that is to do with the land that the cattle is reared on: Grass-fed cattle results in better tasting beef and in Ireland, cattle are left to graze in the fields for most of the year. Grass-fed beef has higher levels of vitamin E and beta-carotene compared to grain-fed beef and it also has a higher ratio of omega 3 fatty acids and CLAs, which have been linked to health benefits such as lower cholesterol and reduced cancer risks. Irish food safety standards are extremely high and any beef products that are made in Ireland follow a very strict process, so you know you’re in safe hands!
What Is Beef Cheek?
Beef cheeks are tough, sinewed facial muscles from cows. This muscle is used nearly constantly by the cow as they chew, so it gets really tough. However, the constant action helps to build up the flavour in the muscle, meaning they're absolutely delicious to eat but they require some care and attention.
READ MORE: Delicious Beef Recipes
How To Cook Beef Cheek
Firstly, we recommend that you go to a reputable butcher to get your beef cheeks, as a lot of work goes into preparing them, so you want to make sure it's done right. If you take your cheeks home untrimmed, there will be a lot of work for you to do, which can be disarming if you're unprepared.
Many butchers don't carry beef cheeks regularly, so it's best to call ahead to see if they have them or if the can get them in stock for you. It's also important to take shrinkage into account, as each piece of beef can shrink by about 100g during cooking.
Beef cheeks need very low and slow cooking. Even though it takes a long time, braising is the best method, as it allows you to pack in a lot of flavour while tenderising the beef beautifully. The best way to braise beef cheeks is to brown them off in a pan first, then caramelise some shallots, carrots and celery. Add to a deep, ovenproof dish along with red wine and beef stock, then cover and cook for around 5-6 hours at 140ºC. The result should be meltingly tender beef that falls apart to the touch. This recipe for slow-cooked beef cheeks is absolutely delicious and guarantees perfect results. It's perfect for a family dinner or dinner party.