Meltingly tender: Beef cheeks. Photo: Edwina Pickles
What are they?
Not the rump cheeks, silly, but the facial cheeks of beef. Because they are working muscles, their connective tissue helps them to hold their shape after slow cooking, even when meltingly tender.
Where are they?
At Circular Quay's Café Nice, chef David Young's beef cheek Nicoise with pappardelle is in demand. "Now that it's winter, it's the go-to pasta dish on the menu," he says. "We cook them with dried porcini mushrooms, orange peel, thyme, bay leaves and lots of red wine until they're lovely and gelatinous."
At MoVida in Surry Hills, Frank Camorra's slow-braised ''carrillera de buey'' with cauliflower puree has achieved legendary status, as has Bourke Street Bakery's rich and lovely beef cheek pie. At The Carrington, also in Surry Hills, chef Jamie Thomas braises the cheeks for 18 to 20 hours with Pedro Ximinez sherry, then adds coffee-soaked prunes and jalapeno chillies, serving them with carrot puree. "Every chef who loves cooking with secondary cuts loves cooking beef cheeks," he says. "They're so forgiving."
Chef Joe Grbac's opening menu at Saint Crispin lists veal cheeks with hand-rolled macaroni, miso eggplant and almonds; while at Pizza Religion the beef cheek pizza is a thing of beauty. "We braise the cheeks in red wine and Pedro Ximinez sherry for 14 hours," says chef Thomas Peasnell. "Then we serve it on celeriac puree with caramelised onions, gremolata, and a hint of truffle oil. It crisps up beautifully in the oven.'' At Raymond Capaldi's Hare & Grace, head chef Buddha Lo marinates beef cheeks in red wine, browns them off, then braises them in the wine for six hours, serving them with bacon, shallots and mushrooms, and a big quenelle of buttery Paris mash. "It's a very comforting thing to eat," he says.
Why do I care?
Because few things go so well with a good bottle of red.
Can I do them at home?
Can and should. Order from a good butcher, trim off any silver skin, and marinate in red wine overnight, if you have time.
Cafe Nice, 2 Phillip Street, Circular Quay East 8248 9600
London Fields, The London, 85 Underwood Street, Paddington 9331 3200
MoVida Sydney, 50 Holt Street, Surry Hills 8964 7642
The Carrington, 565 Bourke Street, Surry Hills 9360 4714
Bourke Street Bakery, 633 Bourke Street, Surry Hills 9699 1011
Saint Crispin, 300 Smith Street, Collingwood, 9489 4609
Hare & Grace, 525 Collins Street, Melbourne, 9629 6755
Pizza Religion, 493 Tooronga Road, Hawthorn East, 9882 2555
4 tbsp olive oil
1.5kg beef cheeks, trimmed
200g speck, thickly sliced
2 leeks, trimmed and chopped
4 carrots, peeled and sliced
4 celery stalks, sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled
500ml red wine
400ml chicken stock or water
2 tbsp tomato paste
4 anchovy fillets
2 bay leaves
4 thyme sprigs
2 rosemary sprigs
1 tsp sea salt
½ tsp cracked black pepper
Extra herbs for serving
1. Heat the oven to 150 degrees. Heat two tablespoons of oil in a heavy pan and sear the beef cheeks in batches over medium heat on all sides, until you get a nice crust.
2. Remove the beef, add remaining olive oil and cook the speck, leeks, carrots, celery and garlic, tossing well for 5 minutes. Add the red wine and simmer for 5 minutes, then add the stock, tomato paste, anchovies, bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, sea salt and pepper.
3. Return the beef cheeks to the pan and simmer for 5 minutes. Tightly cover, transfer to the oven, and cook for 4½ hours, or until tender.
4. To serve, pick out the herbs and discard. Strain half the cooking liquid into a pan and boil for 5 minutes until glossy. Serve the beef cheeks with fresh herbs and mashed potato, pasta or polenta, and ladle the reduced sauce over the top.
Serves 4 or more
Who would have thought good old chicken soup was hip?
Spotted in Sydney at Lox, Stock & Barrel, Bondi Beach (Holmbrae chicken soup with root vegetables and egg noodles), and Rose Bay's The Sailors Club (chicken broth reggiano with peas and carrots).
Also spotted in Melbourne at Cutler & Co, Fitzroy (golden chicken broth, Rottnest Island scallop, abalone and mushroom), and at Elwood's Dandelion (Glenloth free-range chicken soup with soft-cooked organic egg).