I noticed a rather forlorn and lonely organic ox cheek in the butcher’s shop window towards closing time, on special offer. “Cook it or freeze it today – you can have it for £1.80”, he said. It was quite substantial, weighing just over 3/4 lb, so I didn’t hesitate!
The cheeks of an ox do a lot of work chewing grass and therefore they are quite tough (a cow can quite literally turn grass into milk within 24 hours – that’s a lot of chewing and digesting). However, with slow cooking the muscles break down to become one of the tastiest cuts of beef, with a texture to rival filet steak at a fraction of the price. Do ask your butcher to trim the cheek and remove the outer membrane, but leave the sinew, because it will turn to gelatin and add to the tenderness when braised.
Carrillada de Ternera receta:
(the sauce is sufficient for 2 cheeks)
1 ox cheek per person
1 large Spanish onion (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
2 medium tomatoes (grated)
1 yellow pepper (chopped)
1 large stick of celery (chopped)
1 heaped dessertspoon plain flour (seasoned)
1/2 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera picante
1/2 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera dulce
2 bay leaves
a large squirt anchovy paste
a dessertspoon fresh coriander (chopped) or parsley
1 glass red wine
1/4 pint home made beef stock
a splash red wine vinegar
extra virgin olive oil
Dust the cheek with flour seasoned with salt and pepper. Brown both sides in hot olive oil and remove to a plate. Reserve any leftover flour.
Chop and caramelise a large Spanish onion in the same oil and casserole. Do this slowly and add more oil as necessary – don’t let the onion burn.
When the onion becomes soft and sticky, grate in 2 medium sized tomatoes – slice them in half and shred the wet side into the pan.
Stir in the celery, garlic, yellow pepper (red or green would also be good) and coriander (cilantro).
Sprinkle on the pimentón (paprika) and leftover flour – mix in to make a roux.
Add the remaining ingredients and stock – bring to a simmer.
Submerge the ox cheek in the liquid and spoon some of the sauce over he top. Put the lid on and place in the middle of a preheated oven at 160º C.
Cook for 2 hours or until tender – turn the (other) cheek about half way through, to keep it moist and ensure even cooking. When done, a fork should pierce the meat without resistance.
Remove the ox cheep to a warm plate and use a stick blender (or liquidiser) to create a smooth sauce. Decorate with a few coriander leaves and serve with mashed potato or polenta. I recommend drinking a glass or two of Paso de Buey (Ox Pass) as a suitable accompaniment.
While this recipe is very much like something Spanish, the most common method of cooking Carrillada de Ternera is actually quite similar to that of the English and French (see my previous version here), which suggests that it’s a classic international dish, somewhat like oxtail. I started out to cook a Catalan style recipe with a sofregit and picada, but when I tasted the sauce, I realised it was just right and that adding a picada would have been demasiado (too much) – sometimes, less is more. The final taste was of caramel from the onions, smokey heat from the pimentón and umami from the beef with a
subtle fragrance of cilantro. It was delicious and will be be my standard ox cheek recipe from now on!