I had a couple of challenges with this dish:
1) We are in the midst of a Whole30 and many of the recipes I found for beef cheeks included wine. There’s no alcohol in Whole30!!!
2) Our schedules and appetites have both been a little unpredictable lately. After taking the prized beef cheeks out of the freezer, I was afraid that I wouldn’t have time to prepare them before we left to go up to my Dad’s for most of the weekend. It turns out that I had plenty of time, but we just weren’t hungry enough to justify indulging is this rare treat the evening before we left.
Both challenges were easily overcome. I found a replacement for the wine and after a little more research, I found solace about leaving the cheeks in the fridge an extra day.
However, it didn’t exactly go off without a hitch. In my quest to make a wonderful Whole30 gourmet meal, I had scoured recipe after recipe and took from each what met my criteria. But I sure hope I get another chance at these because I made one almost fatal flaw…one that would have had me kicked out of Hell’s Kitchen never to recover from the scorn of Chef Ramsey. The dish was saved, but the dining experience was not quite as pleasant as it should have been. My f@#$-up? Peppercorns.
A pet peeve of mine with many recipes is the practice of using a lot of top quality ingredients in a marinade, and then after a few hours of letting the meat sit in the mix, instructing the cook to toss it all in the trash or down the drain. So I was thrilled to see several beef cheeks recipes used the marinade to cook the meat in as well. The problem was created when I also cooked the vegetables in the marinade…the marinade that included peppercorns. When retrieving the vegetables from the bottom of the crock, I forgot about the peppercorns. See that one sitting right there on top of a white sweet potato? Picking around peppercorns isn’t fine dining.
So needless to say, we’ll be using fresh ground pepper for this recipe in the future.
My replacement for the wine consisted of a mix of chicken stock, the juice of one lemon and some homemade cranberry juice. I had made this a few weeks ago (simply simmer cranberries in water and strain) to use as a replacement for my evening glass of cabernet, which I gave up for Whole30. Some watered-down cranberry juice with a squeeze of lemon or lime is tart enough that I have to sip it just like I would a glass of wine. It was a good transition drink, but plain water or an occasional cup of decaf after dinner has been a satisfactory replacement most evenings. So I used the remaining cranberry juice for the marinade.
Despite the peppercorn misfortune, the meat turned out wonderful. It was fall-apart tender, and the marinade imparted an unexpected sweetness. There’s something very special about beef cheeks. They have a fatty stickiness that is similar to really great slow cooked ribs, but they taste like delicious old-fashioned roast beef. I decided to take the roast-beef route, especially since it gave me a chance to use some carrots from the garden. Even though they are a little sad looking, nothing compares to the smell of freshly pulled carrots!
The recipe below is exactly how this dish came together and it covers several days. It isn’t necessary to draw it out as long, but chefs like Michael Ruhlman actually recommend cooking some meats a couple of days prior to serving in order for the flavors to develop. At least I think is was Ruhlman…apologies if I have that wrong. So after seeing that technique mentioned on several occasions, and knowing that the meat I was using was from a well-raised cow, I felt very comfortable allowing the process to span a few more days. But if you do plan to eat this meal on the same day it is cooked, I think it would be fine to add the carrots and potatoes to the crock about half-way through, and that would save a lot of steps and some clean-up too.
If you don’t have the marrow bones, they are not essential. But it’s going to be a long time before I forget the joy of fresh carrots covered in that buttery, beef flavored fat!
I’ve been fortunate enough to purchase beef cheeks from a local farmer, but if you can’t find them locally, U.S. Wellness Meats carries them, and any orders placed between now and August 21st, 2012 using the code “paleo4u” will receive a 15% discount. Yes, really!!
- For the Marinade:
- 2 shallots, thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon ground pepper
- 2 sprigs of rosemary
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 cup cranberry juice (homemade preferred)
- 1 cup chicken broth (homemade preferred)
- juice of one lemon
- Remaining Ingredients
- 2 cleaned beef cheeks, grass-fed
- 2 tablespoons fat of choice (I used one of ghee and one of palm oil)
- 2 marrow bones
- several small carrots, cleaned and peeled
- 1 white sweet potato, peeled and cubed
- 1 purple sweet potato, peeled and cubed
- a few sprigs of thyme
- Place marinade ingredients and cheeks in bowl. You can dump it all in but I placed roughly 1/3rd of the dry ingredients in the bottom of the bowl, laid in once cheek, covered it with 1/3rd, stacked the 2nd cheek on top of that, and then cover that cheek with the remaining dry ingredients.
- Mix the liquids (cranberry juice, chicken broth and lemon juice) and gently pour in the bowl. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for one to two days.
- Melt fat in pan or dutch oven over medium high heat.
- Place cheeks in pan and brown on each side 3-4 minutes.
- Place the browned cheeks in a slow-cooker along with the marinade and two marrow bones.
- Cook on low for 8-10 hours.
- When crock is cool enough, place in fridge for 1-2 days.
- Remove crock from fridge and allow to come to room temp.
- Preheat oven to 450 F
- Carefully remove the cheeks to a clean plate. (They are so tender, they may fall apart!)
- Place carrots and potatoes in Dutch oven.
- Pour juices and fat from crock into Dutch oven over the vegetables.
- Place in oven and cook 30 minutes.
- Remove pan and place beef cheeks on top of vegetables and cover with lid.
- Return to oven and cook until vegetables are tender and beef is steaming, 10-15 additional minutes.