One of the intriguing recent trends in food is the whole animal movement. While it usually focuses on offal, it also encompasses some of the less popular cuts, including the cheeks. Since they are full of tissues that can be very tough, they do well in braises that allow the connective tissues to melt into the sauce. Using dense flavorful liquids for the braise accents their texture while reducing down to a thick sauce that pairs well with hearty starches. The hard part is locating beef cheeks. We found ours at the Marin Sun Farms stand at the Ferry Building Farmers Market, but we also recommend talking with your local butcher. Don’t be put off by the time commitment of this recipe, but instead jump in and enjoy the results. We serve them on polenta but pasta or hearty rice would do also.
2 large onions, fine diced
5 cloves garlic, rough chop
2 bay leaves
1 quart beef stock
1 bottle red wine (we used a syrah)
2 1 pound beef cheeks
½ pound button mushrooms
Olive oil as needed
3 tablespoons cold water
3 tablespoons cornstarch
Salt and pepper as needed
1) Preheat oven to 300.
2) In a large dutch oven, combine one diced onion, garlic, bay leaves, stock and wine. Bring to a boil and reduce by half. Strain sauce and reserve to the side.
3) Season both sides of cheeks with salt and pepper. In the same dutch oven, heat olive oil to shimmering and then brown both cheeks. The connective tissues will “seize” when heated so ensure you brown all sides. Remove and set aside.
4) Sautee remaining onion in same pot. When the onions are translucent, return meat and any juices to pot and add reduced sauce. Bring to a boil.
5) Cover pot and place in oven. Allow meat to braise for 5 to 6 hours or until visibly tender. Turn meat periodically to ensure proper coverage. You can also do this in a crock-pot
6) Slice mushrooms thinly and sauté in olive oil until browned. .
7) Remove meat from liquid and set aside. Bring liquid to a boil and reduce by half. Make a slurry with the water and cornstarch and then add to sauce. Whisk until thickened.
8) Shred meat with a fork and toss in thickened sauce. Serve over polenta with sautéed mushrooms and more sauce.
(This article also appears at http://www.examiner.com/food-in-san-francisco/braised-beef-cheeks-with-mushrooms-and-polenta)