Beef, Brassicas, Cheese, Offal, Pork Products, Random Thoughts, Soup, Vegetables

Cheeky.

One of the most interesting aspects of social networking is its potential to unintentionally reveal the truth about the self, the person behind the crafted public image. Along these lines, a surprisingly large number of self-described “foodies” – the kind of people who TiVo Food Network and would throw their panties at Michael Symon if he turned up in a local supermarket – evidently find certain foods too scary to eat. “I love ya Chef but sweetbreads I don’t think so……LOL!” goes one recent zinger on Facebook. “Ewwww….tongue!” says another. You can’t beat it for wit.

You already know about my low tolerance for this infantile attitude toward food. This goes back a long time. The summer after graduating from law school, I went to Spain and Portugal with some friends, a trip that reached its nadir one night in Seville when, nerves frayed from two weeks of hairpin turns in a packed Peugeot, sweaty nights in a series of hostels without air conditioning, and a couple of travel companions who displayed a surprising lack of dietary sang-froid, we got into an argument at the restaurant. Sitting beside the Guadalquivir and surveying the platters landing at tables around us, one travel companion complained that nothing on the menu was edible because all the seafood and poultry came head-on and bone-in.

“Just … order it,” I gritted tightly. “That’s how it comes in Spain.”

“Well, it’s gross,” she shot back. “I don’t eat food with the heads on. I don’t care where we are.”

“We’re not in Roseville, Brenda*. Shrimp has heads. Chicken has bones. There is no goddamn boneless chicken ranch.”

At this point there was a great scraping of metal on concrete as Brenda pushed back her chair, stood up, and threw her napkin down on the table. “You – are – such – a – @$%&^*@ – $#@&$!” she shouted, storming off and attracting the full attention of the other diners, who I’m pretty sure got the gist of her outburst even if they didn’t speak English. Good times, good times.

Looking back, I probably could’ve been nicer about it. For example, if I were trying to ease someone into the idea of eating offal today, I’d serve them braised cheeks. They’re basically like any other cut of meat but better, with all the flavor concentrated in one small disc, bathed in a glossy sauce. The plentiful collagen in the cheeks – heavily exercised by all that chewing – accounts for the sauce’s body.

Iberico pork cheeks.

Cheeks aren’t always the easiest cut to find, but I encourage you to look around, because they’re well worth the hunt. If you’ve got access to a market that caters to a Latino clientele, you might find them, as they’re a favored cut (and I’ve heard that Wal-Marts with well-stocked meat departments sometimes carry them in the freezer section, so give that a shot – it may be the only time I ever endorse stopping into the Wal-Mart). If you can’t find cheeks, substitute shank, shoulder (in the case of pork), or short rib (in the case of beef). Don’t substitute pork belly; it’s a lot fattier than the cheek, and you’ll wind up with a greasy braise. And don’t substitute hog jowl; it resembles the belly more than the cheek.

Pork cheeks, celeriac pancake, apple

If you subscribe to the textural variation school of cooking – and I do – you will want something firm or crisp to accompany the cheeks, since they’re falling-apart tender and saucy. A celeriac-potato rösti-like cake makes a great accompaniment. Relieve the richness of the cheeks with a fresh apple salad. If you have leftover cheeks, enjoy them with toast points, cornichons, and mustard for lunch.

I used ibérico cheeks and highly recommend them; they had an intensely meaty, nutty flavor that I haven’t encountered in any other type of pork. If you’d like to try them, Iberico USA carries them. The long braising process in the flavorful liquid makes up for a lot of the shortcomings of conventional pork, though, so don’t hesitate to make this dish if you can’t spring for the ibérico cheeks. Keep the cooking temperature low, as near to 180F as you can, to ensure tenderness rather than stringiness. The intention of long cooking at low temperatures is to break the collagen down into gelatin, which then bathes the meat’s muscle fibers. Although it may seem that braised meats cannot become dry, this is untrue; the fibers in the cheek, like those in other heavily-exercised parts of the animal, are long and will become tough, dry, and unpleasantly stringy if they lose too much moisture. If that happens, you can notice the stringiness even when the meat is adequately coated in sauce. So don’t be tempted to cook at a higher temperature, and always be careful when reheating.

One last thing: in a conventional braise, the meat is browned first to develop rich, savory flavors via the Maillard reaction. I dispensed with this step because the cheeks are quite small and I wanted to reduce the possibility that the meat would toughen up. It turns out not to be necessary.

Oh, actually, one last last thing: the ibérico cheeks came in a pretty large Cryovac package and, when thawed, gave up a few cups of blood. I saved the blood, which smelled sweet and clean, and not slaughterhouse-y in that way that factory-farmed (CAFO) pork smells. I’ll be making blood sausage with that in the future, so watch for the post.

2 lb pork cheeks, cleaned of silverskin if necessary
one large onion, peeled and diced
two carrots, scraped and coarsely chopped
two stalks celery, coarsely chopped
16 oz ale
1 1/2 quart veal stock (substitute white beef stock or chicken stock)
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp grated fresh horseradish root
bouquet garni

2 granny smith apples
lemon juice
chives, minced

180F/82C oven.

Place a heavy, lidded pot over medium heat and, when hot, add about 1 tbsp oil. Add the vegetables and sweat until tender and translucent. Add the ale and scrape up the fond. Lower the heat and reduce by about half. This step is necessary to reduce the booziness of the beer.

Add the stock and aromatics; return to simmer. Stir in the mustard and horseradish; place the pork cheeks in the pot. Cover with parchment paper and then the lid; place in the oven. Alternatively, reduce the heat to the lowest setting and maintain just shy of a simmer. You may not achieve equivalent results on the stove since a consistently low heat is harder to achieve.

Braise 10-12 hours in the oven or about 5-6 hours on the stove. Check stove from time to time to ensure that the braise is not boiling.

When fork-tender, remove cheeks to a container. Strain the braising liquid through chinois over the cheeks to cover. Chill overnight (this step is not strictly necessary but it will make the fat easier to remove).

After removing the cheeks

Remove cold fat layer from the top of the container. Return the braising liquid to a pan and reduce over low heat until glossy, smooth, and sauce-like. This step may take from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on your volume of liquid, the size of your pan, and the heat of your stove. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting and return the cheeks to the pan. Heat through.

Prepare a brunoise of the granny smith apples and toss with a little lemon juice to prevent browning. Then combine with the chives.

Serve the cheeks with celeriac rösti wedges and the apple-herb salad.

Iberico cheek, celeriac rosti, mustard, celeriac purée.

For the celeriac rösti:

This isn’t strictly a rösti, which classically features just potatoes and butter. It just sort of resembles one.

1/2 celeriac root, washed and peeled (use a knife to peel, not a peeler)
1/2 lb russet potatoes, washed and peeled
1 medium yellow onions, minced
1/2 c flour
1/2 tsp ground celery seed
pinch of cayenne or espelette pepper
4 large eggs, beaten with a fork
kosher salt to taste, at least 1 tsp and probably more
black pepper
celery salt to finish
vegetable oil and butter

Oven 425F on broil. Set the rack in the middle position of the oven.

Place a 12″ skillet over medium heat and, when hot add 1 tbsp oil. Sauté the onion until translucent and just beginning to color slightly. Do not brown. Set aside to cool for a few minutes.

Combine the eggs, flour, celery seed, cayenne, scallions, onion, 2 tsp salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Wipe out the skillet.

Shred the celeriac in a food processor or grate on a box grater. Toss with about 1/2 tsp lemon juice to prevent browning (try not to use more or it will be sour). Shred the potatoes in a food processor or grate on a box grater. Place in a clean kitchen towel (one that does not smell of detergent or dryer sheets), fold the towel over, twist the ends, and squeeze the towel over a bowl. Squeeze as much liquid as possible out of the potato. If necessary, repeat in another towel. Add the grated potatoes and celeriac to the egg mixture and stir well to combine.

Return the skillet to medium high heat and add about 1 tbsp each butter and oil to the pan. Swirl the pan once the butter foams to coat the sides about 1″ up. Add the entire mixture and distribute evenly throughout the pan, patting to compress somewhat. Cook until the underside is golden brown and pulls away slightly from the sides; transfer to the broiler.

Cook until the top is golden brown. Remove,cool slightly, and transfer to a cutting board. Slice into wedges. Season with a grind of black pepper and a little celery salt.

Golden brown cake.

Beef cheek, ricotta dumpling, cauliflower soup

Certain cuts of beef taste to me like “generic meat.” Beef tenderloin, for example – I’ve never really understood the great love of filet mignon (although I imagine it corresponds with the fear of offal). Or the round – there’s nothing really wrong with it, but I’ve had a lot of roast beef made from the round, which tastes to me like AnyMeat. It could be the reason why I’ve never been able to get excited about deli roast beef sandwiches.

Beef cheek, though? You’ll never mistake that for anything other than beef. Along with the deckle and the short rib, it is one of the three cuts that deliver the most intense beef flavor per bite. The dish below – beef cheeks with dumplings and a creamy cauliflower soup, garnished with flash-fried cauliflower florets – is pretty rich, and a small-portions kind of thing. If you have fresh truffle, now is the time to use it.

You’ll have leftover beef cheek and braising reduction; you can shred up the cheeks in the reduction and toss it with tagliatelle or pappardelle.

For the beef cheek:

1 1/2 lb beef cheeks, cleaned of the most obvious gristle and silverskin
medium onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
bouquet garni (leek w/bay leaf, thyme, parsley)
2 c dry red wine
1 quart white beef stock or veal stock

180F/82C oven.

Place a heavy, lidded pot over medium heat and, when hot, add about 1 tbsp oil. Sear the beef cheeks on all sides until deep brown (a couple of minutes per side). Remove to a plate. Add the vegetables to the pan and sweat until tender and translucent. Add the wine and scrape up the fond. Lower the heat and reduce by about half.

Add the stock and aromatics; return to simmer. Return the beef cheeks in the pot. Cover with parchment paper and then the lid; place in the oven. Alternatively, reduce the heat to the lowest setting and maintain just shy of a simmer. You may not achieve equivalent results on the stove since a consistently low heat is harder to achieve.

Braise 10-12 hours in the oven or about 5-6 hours on the stove. Check stove from time to time to ensure that the braise is not boiling.

When fork-tender, remove cheeks to a container. Strain the braising liquid through chinois over the cheeks to cover. Chill overnight (this step is not strictly necessary but it will make the fat easier to remove).

Remove cold fat layer from the top of the container. Return the braising liquid to a pan and reduce over low heat until glossy, smooth, and sauce-like. This step may take from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on your volume of liquid, the size of your pan, and the heat of your stove. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting and return the cheeks to the pan. Gently heat through.

Serve with the cauliflower soup, flash fried cauliflower florets, and the dumplings. If you have fresh white truffle (or black), slice a little bit over the top.

Beef cheek, cauliflower, ricotta dumpling

Cauliflower soup

2/3 lb cauliflower florets and stems, sliced 1/4″
2 1/2 c white veal stock or chicken stock
6 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 tsp white wine vinegar (to taste)
5 tbsp butter
2/3 c heavy cream
salt and white pepper

To prepare sous vide:

Bag the cauliflower with the salt and 1 tbsp butter. Vacuum seal and drop into a circulator at 183F/84C for 45 minutes. Meanwhile, bring the stock to a simmer with the bay and thyme.

Remove herbs. Transfer both cauliflower and stock to a vitaprep. Blitz until smooth and add the cream; blitz again until smooth. Add the butter; blitz again. If necessary, strain through a chinois. Season with salt, pepper, and vinegar.

To prepare conventionally:

Bring the stock to a simmer with the thyme and bay leaf and, when add the cauliflower. Simmer until tender, about 8 minutes; do not continue to simmer beyond that point. Remove herbs.

Transfer to a vitaprep. Blitz until smooth and add the cream; blitz again until smooth. Add the butter; blitz again. If necessary, strain through a chinois. Season with salt, pepper, and vinegar.

For the dumplings:

1/2 lb whole milk ricotta
1 egg, beaten
between 3-5 tbsp flour
1/4 tsp salt
minced assorted herbs – thyme, chives, tarragon, parsley

Combine the beaten egg with the minced herbs, salt, and the ricotta. Incorporate well. Spread out on a flat surface and sprinkle flour evenly over the surface; working quickly, fold the ricotta/egg mixture over itself again and again, using a bench scraper or knife to incorporate the flour into the ricotta, to form a small square. Transfer it back into a bowl and let it rest (you can rest it in the refrigerator for up to a day at this point, tightly covered).

At serving time, bring a pot of salted water to a simmer and, using a small scoop or two spoons, drop balls or quenelles of dumpling dough about 3/4″ into the simmering water. When the dumplings float, let them simmer for about a minute. Remove from the water with a skimmer and drain briefly on a clean kitchen towel.

With a cauliflower soup.

*names have been changed to protect the food-cowardly.

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2 thoughts on “Cheeky.

  1. Pingback: No bones about it. « The Upstart Kitchen

  2. Hey just wanted to give you a quick heads up.
    The text in your content seem to be running off the screen in Opera.
    I’m not sure if this is a formatting issue or something to do with browser compatibility but I figured I’d post to let you
    know. The style and design look great though! Hope you get the issue
    solved soon. Many thanks

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