Guance di Manzo Brasato
Let me say from the onset that this is not a Bartolini family recipe. In fact, I can say with some certainty — feel free to back me up, Zia — that beef cheeks never graced a Bartolini dinner table. This all changed the last weekend of last October. That was the weekend the vendor with certified organic meats returned to the farmers market.
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You may recall that I had been waiting for him to return because he sold goat and, even though I’d found some at a nearby market, I prefer to buy organic when its available. As it is, I buy chickens from him all Summer long. It had been weeks since he last set up his stall and I was, frankly, surprised to see him. The following weekend was to be the market’s last for the year and I thought him gone until 2014.
His stall, for lack of a better word, is a set of folding tables arranged in a “U” shape. On them he’s places about 6 ice chests in which he keeps the week’s frozen inventory. That week there wasn’t any goat meat but I was surprised to find a package labeled “beef cheeks.” I bought it, along with a chicken, and placed both in the freezer when I returned home.
Well, as this Winter unfolded, I exhausted my repertoire of comfort foods. Last week’s tuna noodle casserole was proof that I’d run out of options. It was about that time that I remembered that there were beef cheeks in the freezer, though they had somehow managed to work their way to a back corner. Another Sunday braise was suddenly in the offing.
Although still below freezing, that Sunday turned out to be the warmest day of the month to date. Since there was no real need to heat the kitchen, I switched gears a bit and opted for using the slow cooker rather than the Dutch oven. Best of all, with a fridge well-stocked with braising vegetables, there would be no last-minute trip to the grocery that morning — until I realized that I’d need side dishes. Curses!
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This braise is like most, with one minor exception. I started by making a form of battuto, an Italian soffrito. In our part of Italy, a battuto consists of finely diced onion, parsley, garlic, and salt pork. Battuto is the first thing into the pan, after the olive oil is heated, and will flavor the dish as its aroma fills your kitchen. Here, I made my battuto with guanciale, parsley, and garlic. (Yes, this recipe mixes the cheeks of both pork and beef. Shocking!) The onions were added with the other braising vegetables, once the battuto was cooked. The rest of the recipe is easy enough to follow and you should have no problems.
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Braised Beef Cheeks Recipe
- 2 beef cheeks, approximately 1.2 lbs (540 g)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 4 oz guanciale, chopped – pancetta or bacon may be substituted
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/4 c parsley, chopped
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 stalks celery, leaves included, roughly chopped
- 2 carrots, roughly chopped
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 3 tbsp tomato paste
- 3/4 c red wine
- 3/4 c Madeira
- 1.5 c beef stock
- salt and pepper
- lemon zest
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- Combine chopped guanciale, parsley, and garlic on your cutting board and chop them together until uniform. This is the battuto.
- Warm oil in a sauté pan over med-high heat. Add the battuto and sauté until the guanciale’s fat is rendered, about 5 – 7 minutes. Do not allow to burn.
- Add onion, carrots, and celery to the pan and sauté until the onion is translucent.
- Add the rosemary and thyme to the pan. Continue sautéing until both begin to wilt.
- Use a slotted spoon to remove the pan’s contents and place all into the slow cooker. Do not drain the oil.
- Season beef cheeks with salt and pepper before placing into the hot pan. Turn when brown, about 5 minutes. Remove when both sides have been browned. Place into the slow cooker atop the other ingredients.
- Add the tomato paste to the pan and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Use wine to deglaze the pan.
- Add the Madeira and beef stock and bring to a boil to burn off the alcohol.
- Add the liquid to the slow cooker. (See Notes)
- Cook on high for one hour before reducing to low for another 6 hours. Turn over the meat occasionally, about once every 90 minutes, or so. (See Notes)
- Remove meat and cover while the liquids are strained and the sauce prepared. (See Notes)
- Just before serving, garnish with a bit of lemon zest.
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As pictured, there were 2 sides served, neither of which is complicated nor difficult to prepare.
- Mashed Potatoes and Parsnips with Roasted Garlic:
- Prepare mashed potatoes as you would normally, substituting 1/3 of the potatoes with peeled, chopped parsnips. Once boiled and drained, mash before adding warmed heavy cream into which butter and roasted garlic cloves have been added. Serve.
- Sautéed Broccoli Rab (Rapini) with Pancetta and Garlic:
- Sauté chopped pancetta in a bit of olive oil to render its fat and until it’s not quite fully cooked. Add garlic and, after about a minute, add the broccoli rab, season with salt & pepper, and sauté until cooked to your satisfaction. Serve.
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The braising liquid should not be so deep that the meat is totally submerged like you would do for a stew or soup. When using a slow cooker. the liquid should come about half-way up the side of the beef cheeks. When using a Dutch oven, I use enough liquid so that it comes up 2/3 of the side of the protein to allow for evaporation. Use more or less liquid to arrive at the recommended level. Just maintain the same ratio of the braising liquid’s ingredients: 2 parts beef stock to 1 part each of Madeira and red wine.
A slow cooker works by applying a low, even temperature over a long period of time. Do not uncover the cooker unless necessary or you’ll run the risk of extending the cooking time.
Parsnips are a bit more firm than potatoes. When preparing them, chop the parsnips in pieces that are slightly smaller than the potatoes to insure that all will finish cooking at the same time.
Once you’ve strained the liquids and removed the fat, you can:
- serve the sauce as-is;
- reduce it and serve; or,
- use a thickening agent — flour, corn starch, or arrowroot — to make gravy.
No matter how you finish the sauce, be sure to taste and adjust the seasoning as needed.
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When blogs collide
On the very day that I was cooking my beef cheeks, Phil, of “Food, Frankly“, posted his recipes for preparing an ox cheeks dinner. Do yourself a favor and take a few minutes to check out the delicious meal that he prepared.
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In the Comments for last week’s post, my Cousin mentioned that there’s a recall of beef that was processed by a California company and sold across the US. Though the beef I purchased was locally grown and processed, that is hardly the case everywhere. You can read about the recall and the reasons behind it in this USDA News Release, dated February 18th, 2014.
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It’s déjà vu all over again …
It won’t be long now before we are once again celebrating St. Joseph’s Feast Day. Today’s look back will show you how to prepare a risotto of 3 colors, each of which, not so coincidentally, corresponds to one of the colors of the Italian flag. You needn’t be Italian to make this expression of Italian pride and you can learn how to do it by clicking HERE.
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Coming soon to a monitor near you …
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