Ox cheek is quite obviously one of those parts of the animal that is constantly working during the ox or cow's lifetime as it chews its food and the cud. This means that if it is not cooked long and slow, it will be incredibly tough and very difficult if not impossible to eat. Braising on the stove top is an excellent way of cooking such cuts of meat, not only ensuring that the meat will be served so tender it will literally melt in the mouth but providing endless opportunities to impart different flavors in to the flesh as it cooks.
Ingredients (Serves 1)
- 1 whole ox/cow cheek
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- ½ red bell pepper
- ½ green bell pepper
- ½ yellow bell pepper
- 1 small onion
- 1 red chili
- Salt and pepper
- 1½ pints fresh beef stock, or as required
- 1 medium to large sweet potato
- 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
- 1 large garlic clove
- 2 teaspoons freshly chopped cilantro (coriander leaf), plus extra to garnish
Pour the vegetable oil in to a large pot and bring it up to a medium heat. Lay the ox cheek in the pot and fry for about a minute to brown on the first side.
Turn the ox cheek over with cooking tongs and fry for a similar period of time on the second side.
Lift the cheek temporarily from the pot to a deep plate or small bowl.
Seed and slice the bell pepper halves to a thickness of around a quarter of an inch. Peel the onion and cut it in half down through the center. Lay each half on its flat side and slice across the way in to strands. Slice the chili in to discs, discarding the remaining green piece of the stem.
Put the peppers, onion and chili in to the pot used to brown the ox cheek. Season with salt and black pepper. Keeping the heat on low to medium, saute for three to five minutes until the onion and pepper strands are softened.
Push the peppers and onion away from the center of the pot with a wooden spoon to clear a space for the ox cheek, which should then be returned to the pot.
Pour in enough beef stock to ensure the meat is comfortably covered. Turn up the heat until the liquid starts to simmer. Put the lid on the pot and adjust the heat to maintain as low a simmer as possible for three hours. Check the pot fairly regularly and if necessary, top up the liquid level either with more hot stock or boiling water, just enough to ensure the cheek remains covered.
The sweet potato needs to go on to cook around twenty minutes before the beef cheek is ready. Start by peeling it and chopping it in to one to one and a half inch chunks.
Add the sweet potato pieces to a pot with plenty of cold water, seasoning with a little salt. Put the pot on to a high heat to bring the water to a simmer then reduce the heat and maintain a gentle simmer until the pieces are just softened. This should take fifteen to twenty minutes.
Drain the sweet potatoes at your sink and allow them to steam off for a few minutes to prevent an excess of moisture making your mash soggy.
It is not really necessary for the ox cheek to be rested as it will already be super tender and juicy but plating up is easier if you remove it firstly to a separate small dish. Be sure however to lift it from the pot with a large slotted spoon and not a fork, otherwise it is likely to fall apart at a touch.
Put the cumin seeds in to a dry frying pan and the pan on to a medium to high heat. Toast for up to a minute, shaking the pan occasionally and gently, until you can smell them cooking. This process adds a very definite extra flavor twist to any dish rather than simply using cumin purchased already ground.
A pestle and mortar should be used to grind the seeds to a powder. This is particularly easy when they are so hot.
Use a hand masher to mash the sweet potatoes just to the stage where no lumps remain.
Peel the garlic clove and grate it in to the mash with a small hand grater. Also add the ground cumin. Stir with a wooden spoon to evenly distribute the spices through the mash.
Add the chopped cilantro to the mash and stir again to combine.
Spoon the mash in to a deep serving plate and spread it out with the back of your spoon to form an even bed for the ox cheek.
Lift the cheek with cooking tongs on to the center of the bed of mash.
The pepper and onion strands will largely be cooked out of their flavor but a few strands sat on top of the ox cheek make for better presentation. Scatter with the last of the cilantro to garnish and experience for yourself how delicious, tender and succulent this hugely underrated piece of meat truly is to eat.