A Slow Braise of Beef Cheeks à la Lyonnais

Joues de Boeuf aux Carottes Glacées

One of the most flavorful cuts of beef, the cheek is a cut that needs time and patience to bring out the best of its rich, gelatinous qualities. Three hours of low braising yields incredible flavor and texture and fulfills our deepest desires a flavorful winter meat dish.

 

Beef cheeks and carrots by Lucy Vanel

The cheek sold by the tripier and butcher is one whole lower cheek muscle from the cow © Lucy Vanel

 

Chasing the best beef cheeks at the Croix-Rousse market

 

There is a line at Triperie Bouhours at the Croix Rousse market this morning, one of Lyon’s last old-school operations specializing in les abats, or offal. Each person patiently awaiting their turn is on a mission of a different sort. The lady ahead of me is after some tripes.

-“Tripes for six people, please…”

The young man working the stand pulls a large trough containing various pieces of the four different stomachs of the cow, having been cleaned and given a long simmer before she will take it all home and finish the job with her own sauce. ”

Would you like a bit of each kind?” he asks, pulling out pieces of the different shapes, each seemingly made by divine grace to sop up the sauce in a different way.

At her urging, he piles pieces of each kind, alternating, on the scale. “Tell me when there’s enough” he says. Once the scale reaches 1.5 kilos, a generous 3.3 pounds, the lady signals him to stop.

 

An errand for tripes

I imagine this sliced and shimmering in a sauce, filling one of my vintage serving terrines at the center of a convivial table of six.

She glances to me and smiles, warmly. “They’re gourmands.” I nod to indicate my complete understanding, adjusting my gloves and thinking that it’s time I fixed a big pot of tripes à la Lyonnaise one day soon.

The tripes will wait, because today I have already made up my mind on something else. The weather has been sunny and exceptionally cold.

This January chill has got everyone bundling up as a matter of course in our newly stylish down doudounes to brave the Croix Rousse winds that sweep across the plateau.

We trundle up the stairs to get warm, but somehow that isn’t enough. At about the time that it’s nearly chilling our bones, we gather at tables in cafés and bistros around steaming winter braises.

I am especially fond of beef cheeks braised long and slow enough to evoke the term confit, served with carrots barely cooked through, cooked searingly hot enough to brown their sugars, and glistening with butter and dots of fresh chervil while they hold their own on the plate.

 

Beef cheeks bulge with flavor, for good reason

We are seeing this make the rotation in Lyon in various forms. You can order this dish throughout winter, so don’t worry too much if you’re not up to hours of braising.

The cheek sold by the tripier and butcher is one whole lower cheek muscle from the cow. Imagine the months that have been spent working this muscle non-stop throughout the life of this noble ruminant. It bulges with flavor, for good reason.

One cheek weighs from 600-800 grams, averaging at about a pound and a half, and for a recipe for four people, we should get two whole cheeks.

Try and find them whole, in tact. Once trimmed and cooked, the gelatinous connective tissue having melted into an umami-rich sauce, one half of a cheek will yield a generous but not unreasonably large serving for each person at your table.

 

RECIPE: JOUES DE BOEUF AUX CAROTTES GLACÉES

Braised Beef Cheeks wtih Glazed Carrots
Serves 4

Ingredients for the beef cheeks and glazed carrots recipe by Lucy Vanel

Beef cheeks are braised long and slow enough to evoke the term confit, served with carrots barely cooked through © Lucy Vanel

 

Ingredients needed to cook

  • 2 whole beef cheeks, approximately 1.2 kilos, or 2.5 pounds
  • 8 medium carrots, approx. 800 grams or 1.5 pounds
  • Garniture aromatique:
    – 2 carrots, medium, 200 grams
    – 1 onion, medium, 200 grams
    – 3 shallots, medium, 50 grams
    – 1 bouquet garni: sprigs of parsley, bay and thyme tied in a bundle
  • 15 grams or 1 tablespoon duck fat or neutral oil, grape seed oil is fine
  • 15 grams or 1 tablespoon butter
  • 250 ml or a cup of dry white wine
  • 250 ml or a cup of water
  • 10 grams or a teaspoon of sugar
  • salt and pepper, to season
  • chervil or parsley, leaves and small sprigs, for plating

 

Method: how to cook slow braised beef cheeks

Heat the oven to 120C / 300F.

 

Prepare the garniture aromatique

Peel and roughly chop the carrot (cut each carrot into 10 pieces), the onion (cut into 8-10 pieces) and shallots (cut each shallot into 6 pieces) and tie the bouquet garni using 2 mild bay leaves (careful, California bay requires a smaller amount, maybe ½ a leaf), a generous couple of sprigs of parsley, and 6-8 sprigs of fresh thyme.

Examine the beef cheeks.

If the butcher has not already removed it, you should remove the silver skin, which is residual connective tissue, from the muscle. This can be done by slipping a sharp knife under the tough film, and gliding along under the skin to remove it, pulling the knife along the underside of the film, removing as little of the meat as possible.

 

Brown the Beef Cheeks

Heat half of the duck fat or neutral oil in a heavy high sided cooking pot or dutch oven that will go into the oven with the lid. Brown the whole beef cheeks on all sides over medium-high heat, ensuring that they are well colored. Remove them from the pot.

 

Add the garniture aromatique and wine

Discard any remaining fat from the cooking pot, and add the aromatics (the roughly chopped carrot, onion and shallot) with a generous pinch of salt. Toss to allow to brown slightly, then add the white wine, and stir and scrape the bottom of the pot to allow the wine to release any toasted bits and caramelized meat that might remain on the bottom of the pot.
Bring the wine and aromatics to a boil. Allow the wine to reduce by half. Add the cup of water and the bouquet garni, give it a swirl, bring to a boil, and nestle the beef cheeks into the pot.

 

Braise the Beef Cheeks

Cover the pot, place it in the center of the oven, and let the cheeks slowly cook at a low braise for 4 hours. Every 30-45 minutes, take the pot out to drizzle the cheeks with the cooking liquid, and turn them over at the halfway mark.

While the beef cheeks are braising, cook the carrots. To prepare, bring a large pot of water to a boil, and add a tablespoon of salt to it. On the counter next to the stove, turn a whole tray of ice into a salad bowl, and fill it with enough water to submerge the carrots when they’re done cooking in the boiling salted water

You can make a decision about how you plan to cook the carrots based on what kind you find at the market. Wash and peel them. If you have very small carrots, this is a very good opportunity to let them stay whole. Otherwise slice larger carrots en biseaux, which means on the diagonal, into 1/2 cm or 1/4 inch medallions.

Plunge carrots into the boiling water and once the water begins to boil again, start a timer for 4 minutes. At the end of that time, check them. They should have softened considerably, but still be rather firm. You will cook them again.
Remove them from the cooking water and place them directly into the salad bowl of iced water, which will stop the cooking process. Remove them from the cold bath, and pat dry in a clean towel. They can be reserved from here, covered with the damp towel, until the cheeks have finished their braising.

Beef cheeks recipe by Lucy Vanel

Heat the plates and be generous with the sauce.

 

When the cheeks cooked for a full 3 hours rendering them tender, juicy, gelatinous and easily sliced, delicately remove them from the cooking pot to a plate, keeping warm in the oven where they cooked (covered with foil, oven turned off). Remove the bouquet garni from the pot, and all but a couple of tablespoons of the aromatics. Purée the remaining liquid with the cooked aromatics until it is a smooth, thick, glistening sauce. Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper as desired. It will be concentrated in flavor enough to thin it out with a little bit of water if you need to.

Put the beef cheeks back into the pot, turning them over once or twice in the process to cover with the rich sauce, then bring this to a simmer on the cook top. Immediately reduce the heat to low, cover, and keep warm on the lowest possible heat setting.

 

Finish the carrots

Heat up the remaining duck fat in a wide sauté or skillet, and toss the carrots in the hot fat with the sugar (optional) until slightly caramelized, glistening and golden. Add the remaining butter for flavor and to give them a sheen, and sprinkle them generously with salt and pepper. Off heat and just before serving, toss the glazed carrots with finely chopped chervil and parsley leaves.

 

To dress the plate

Heat the plates and be generous with the sauce. Begin with a large spoonful or two of sauce on the plate or in a wide mouthed bowl for a more rustic effect. Slice the beef cheeks in half. Place a half beef cheek in the center of the sauce, and drizzle more sauce onto the meat. Surround the meat harmoniously with carrots, and garnish with chervil or parsley.

Serve immediately.

 

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