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Monday, 12 December 2011

Braised beef cheek linguine

Some readers may not be familiar with beef cheeks as a cut of meat. Unlike, say, sweet breads, which are neither sweet nor bread, beef cheeks are exactly what they sound like. This might put some people off trying them which is a huge shame as they taste amazing.  They are a little tougher than the average cut of beef and require a bit of TLC before they come into their own and so this dish takes a bit of time (just finding beef cheeks can be a mission) but it's totally worth it.

Because of the huge amount of collagen in beef cheeks they create a very thick braising liquid.  For this reason I think they make an ideal pairing with fresh pasta as it lends the whole dish a velvety texture that you can't recreate with other cuts of meat.  It also really coats your mouth so you can pair this dish with the biggest, baddest red wine you want and never worry that the wine will overpower the food.

You may have to talk to your butcher a few days in advance as not many places stock beef cheeks on a regular basis.  I get them from Whitehouse Meats in Toronto's St. Lawrence market as they are one of the best butchers in town and one of the few that regularly stock cheeks.

Makes 4-6 servings

4 beef cheeks
1 1/2 cups red wine
2 cans whole plum tomatoes (if you're fancy you could blanche and peel your own tomatoes but I have a day job so that ain't happening!)
2 shallots diced
3 cloves of garlic diced
2 small carrots, peeled and chopped
1/2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1 tbsp olive or grapeseed oil
1 sprig fresh rosemary diced
1 sprig rosemary whole
1/2 tbsp duck fat or oil for frying

Carefully remove and discard the silver skin using a sharp boning knife or simply by pulling it off with your hands or with pliers to keep a steady grip.  Combine the shallots, garlic, spices and vinegar in a non-reactive dish, add the cheeks and cover with wine to marinate for 1-24 hours (longer time = bigger flavour).

Preheat oven to 300F. Remove the cheeks, pat dry and reserve the marinade.  Brown cheeks on all sides in oil over high heat (~1 minute per side) in a high sided oven proof frying pan or dutch oven. Add the marinade and tomatoes to the pot, cover and braise in the oven for approximately 3 hours. For the last 1/2 hour, remove the lid and turn the oven up to 350F. This will help caramelize the sugars and boil off some of the liquid. At this point you should taste the sauce and add more salt and pepper if necessary.

While the sauce is braising, make the fresh pasta.  If you don't have a pasta maker, you can roll out portions of the pasta dough by hand and cut the noodles with a knife. In this case, I'd suggest tagliatelle instead of linguine as it will be easier to cut the pasta dough.

To make the rosemary garnish, remove the woody stem from the whole rosemary sprig and fry the leaves in the duck fat in a small frying pan until they become crispy.  Set aside on paper towels to drain.

When the liquid in the sauce has reduced by about half, remove from the oven. Carefully remove 4-6 large portions of beef, set aside on a plate and cover with foil. At this time, you can start to boil a large pot of salted water for the pasta. Using two forks, shred the rest of the meat and break up the tomatoes.  If there's still too much liquid, you may have to reduce it a bit further on the stove or put it back in the oven for a while.

Cook the noodles until al dente and drain. Combine with the sauce until evenly coated and portion out onto plates.  Top each dish with the reserved chunks of beef and garnish with the crispy rosemary. You can add a light dusting of Parmesan cheese if desired.


  1. Sounds excellent! Yes, the sound of "beef cheeks" is a little odd, but hey -- we eat the beef butt all the time, right? And nobody complains about that ;)

  2. Wow, I need to find some beef cheeks NOW! My mouth is watering...

  3. If you have a favourite butcher, ask them if they can get some for you. It may take a few days but they should know what they are and how to procure them for you!