Wow. I have been wanting to cook beef cheek for about two years. My first and only culinary cheek experience was love at first taste. I was dining in the Great Hall at the Australian War Memorial for a peacekeeping conference. The catering was perfect, as it always is. I have been trying to get my hands on some beef cheeks of my own, ever since. Well this week, at the Capital Region Farmers Market, I found some. I was so excited. Gilmore Braes grow Scottish Highland heritage beef cattle in Batlow about two and a half hours south west of Canberra. Highland Beef have beautiful shaggy coats and great marbling through their meat. The cheek is a very hard working muscle. I understand that it’s because of the enzymes it contains that it becomes incredibly tender. I discovered this evening it is a most spectacular cut of meat that turns soft, gelatinous and luxurious when treated tenderly. I knew I didn’t want to do too much to it. I was recently inspired by a Boeuf Bourguignon a friend of mine gave me while I was in hospital. It was a little serve of steaming heaven in a place overcrowded with grey food. I knew that a simple red wine braise would suit these cheeks perfectly. Taking inspiration from the Bourguignon, I selected some mild and sweet onions, a few organic herbs I had drying in my pantry and a generous splash of incredibly luscious biodynamic port from the Barossa. I love this port. JMK is in fact a fortified Shiraz produced by Kalleske. The vintage I have is 2008. It is so good, and a glass went down very well after dinner. I picked my bottle up from icon foods at Melbourne airport last time I was there, but I hope you will be able to get yourself a bottle from wherever it suits. I highly recommend it. This recipe turned out absolutely perfect. I couldn’t have asked for any more in my first attempt at cooking cheek. I don’t care that my brother says it’s passé to call this cheek, ‘it’s daube’ he said. Whatever you want to call it, it is truly incredible. I served it with a little soft polenta made with vegetable stock and a little cream cheese, and a few crisp green beans.
Gently heat the butter in a deep frying pan with a lid. Slowly cook the shallots till beginning to turn golden. This should take around 20 minutes. Remove the shallots and reserve. Heat the olive oil in the same frying pan and increase the heat. Ensure you have three pieces of cheek. Brown the cheek very well all over. This should take about 15 minutes. Discard the fat from the pan. Deglaze the pan with the port. Return the onion to the pan, add the herbs and wine, cover the pan and simmer on low heat for two and a half hours. Turn the meat occasionally and add a little water if it’s required to keep the pan wet. Serve with wet polenta and green beans.