Spiced Beef Cheek Stew Recipe

I am not sure why I thought buying beef cheeks in mid-July was a good idea.

It was a crime of opportunity, really: I was returning to the farmers’ market at the Batignolles for the first time in a while (having a second baby will do that to you) and I was eager to pick up organic meat from one of the farmers there, not quite knowing when I’d have a chance to go again.

Fresh organic meat is still inexplicably hard to find in Paris, as most butchers — even the fancy, pricy ones — offer conventional meat only. It may be well raised and from smaller farms, though it’s always hard to know for sure, but the organic certification is never a selling point.

I stopped by one of my favorite meat stalls at the greenmarket, one run by a boisterous butcher lady who comes with her young apprentice and her teenaged daughter. I spotted a beef cheek in the display case, and set my heart on it immediately: it’s one of my favorite cuts for braised dishes, but it’s a little-known one that you usually have to special-order. It’s also fairly cheap, compared to other stew-friendly cuts, but it has lots of flavor and a rich, satisfying texture brought on by the high collagen content.

Beef cheek is fairly cheap, compared to other stew-friendly cuts, but it has lots of flavor and a rich, satisfying texture brought on by the high collagen content.

The butcher said, “Do you want the entire cheek?” and I said, “Sure!” not having any notion of how big that would be. I watched her trim and prepare the whole thing, and ended up with a good four pounds of meat.

A great purchase by any cook’s standard, except… we were in the middle of a heatwave and the last thing anyone wanted to eat was braised beef cheeks. Thankfully, I was able to find room in my tiny freezer to stash the package away, and dutifully updated the list I maintain to keep track of my frozen supplies so things don’t camp in there for a decade. (Do you do the same? I recommend it.)

Fast forward a few weeks, and I was patting myself on the back for such accidental preparedness. In the midst of the hectic, my-eldest-is-starting-school, my-youngest-is-starting-daycare, I-have-a-zillion-projects-I-want-to-work-on weeks, I was able to put together this incredibly aromatic, soul-warming spiced stew in a matter of minutes.

I use a pressure cooker for this recipe, which saves a significant amount of time and means the stew is ready in — wait for it — an hour. You can, however, prepare it in a Dutch oven or a slow cooker: the active time is just as short, but the meat will take longer to cook. And in all cases, I recommend you prepare it the day before; all stews benefit from a good night’s sleep.

The amounts listed serve a gang — a gang of eight, to be precise — which makes it perfect for a fall dinner party, or means a family can get two to three dinners out of it. If you’re the kind of person who dislikes eating the same thing two days in a row, you can transform the dish on subsequent nights: shred the meat with two forks and toss it with pasta and freshly grated cheese, or layer it across the bottom of a baking dish, top with mashed broccoli and breadcrumbs, and place under the broiler of the oven to make a green hachis parmentier.

And of course, leftover servings may be frozen for another pat-on-the-back dinner down the road.

Join the conversation!

Have you ever cooked with beef cheeks? Is there another semi-obscure cut of meat that you love? Is it stew season yet where you live?

PS : Perfect mashed potatoes to serve with this, and a lovely plum tart to finish.

Spiced Beef Cheek Stew

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Spiced Beef Cheek Stew Recipe

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 50 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour

Serves 8.

Spiced Beef Cheek Stew Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1.8 kilos (4 pounds) beef cheek (see note for substitutions)
  • 2 tablespoons smoked paprika (hot or not, as you prefer)
  • 2 tablespoons ground ginger
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon ground chili pepper (optional; skip if you've used hot smoked paprika)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 medium red onion, finely sliced
  • 8 prunes, pitted and chopped
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cups homemade stock (water will do if you don't have it)
  • Fresh cilantro or flat-leaf parsley, for serving

Instructions

  1. Cut the meat into 5-cm (2-inch) cubes and place at the bottom of a pressure cooker, Dutch oven, or slow cooker.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the smoked paprika, ginger, cumin, salt, cardamom, chili pepper if using, and black pepper. Add to the pot and stir well to coat all the pieces of meat.
  3. Add the onion, prunes, tomato paste, and vinegar, and stir to combine.
  4. Beef Cheek Stew
  5. Pour in the stock.
  6. If using a pressure cooker:
  7. Close the pressure cooker tightly, place on the stove over medium heat, and bring it up to full pressure. Lower the heat to just maintain the pressure and cook for 40 minutes. Allow the pressure to release naturally.
  8. Check that the meat is fork-tender; if it's not, bring the cooker back to pressure and cook for an additional 5 minutes before checking again.
  9. Beef Cheek Stew
    If using a Dutch oven:
  10. Cover the pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Lower the heat to maintain a simmer and cook for 3 hours, until the meat is fork-tender, stirring from time to time and adding a bit of water when the liquids run low.
  11. If using a slow cooker:
  12. Close the cooker and cook on low for 6 to 7 hours, until the meat is fork-tender.
  13. In all cases:
  14. Remove the meat from the pot with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  15. Return the pot to medium-high heat (if using a slow cooker, transfer the sauce to a large pan), bring to a boil, and allow the sauce to reduce until velvety. Add the meat back into the sauce and warm up as necessary.
  16. Serve over perfect mashed potatoes or steamed rice, with cilantro on top and your choice of green vegetable on the side (roasted zucchini, green beans, sautéed kale...).

Notes

  • If beef cheeks are unavailable, substitute another stew-friendly cut, such as chuck roast; see a full list of possibilities.
  • Like all stews, this one gets even better the next day and the day after that.
  • It also freezes perfectly. Allow to thaw in the fridge for a day before warming back up over gentle heat.

https://cnz.to/recipes/meat-charcuterie/spiced-beef-cheek-stew/

Spiced Beef Cheek Stew

  • I’ve never bought beef cheeks before, and am not sure I’ve even eaten them before. Seems like I’ll need to change that soon. This sounds perfect for cool autumn evenings when they arrive. Pinning!

  • i’ve never tried beef cheek before, and only recently tried beef tongue (which tasted just like a normal cut of beef) at a kbbq restaurant. but it sounds really good, and i love how versatile it is (the idea of it shredded over pasta with cheese is particularly appealing).

    • Thanks Heather! We were actually served beef tongue at the school cafeteria when I was little (if you can believe it!), and it’s a specialty of my boyfriend’s grandmother’s. The texture is quite different from beef cheeks, much firmer. I prefer beef cheeks!

    • paizley

      The first time I had beef tongue was in Osaka, Japan. It was wonderful!!!

      • How was it prepared?

        • paizley

          It wasn’t grilled but appeared to have been well-marinated and slow-cooked. It came out sliced thinly across the grain. It was extremely tender and moist, very flavourful, and served with several dipping sauces. I was in heaven! Since then, whenever I can find beef, pork, or lamb tongue, I buy it!

          • So interesting! I’ve mostly had it in aspic or boiled, as these are the classic French preparations. Not a huge fan, I have to say, but it’s mostly psychological. :)

  • Stephanie_The_Recipe_Renovator

    When you say keep the pressure cooker at pressure, can you be more specific? I have a WMF with three colored rings that pop up when it’s at various stages of pressure. Normally I have it at the highest pressure (the bottom ring showing). However, that might be tricky for 40 minutes. So, just checking. Thanks!

    • Ah. My pressure cooker only has one pressure setting, which keeps the pressure between 44 and 66 kPa. Do you know the pressure measurements that correspond to the three stages of your own cooker?

  • Annabel Smyth

    Sounds good. I do have – and use – a pressure cooker (mostly for dried beans and marmalade), but I find a slow cooker less hassle. Not sure I’ve seen beef cheeks on sale here in the UK – our supermarkets have very uninspiring cuts of meat, and our local butchers have long since demised. Sigh.

    • That is such a sad state of affair. :( In this kind of situation, I believe a good solution can be to seek out a farmer who sells whole animals directly to consumers, who share the bounty and freeze the different cuts. Would that be a possibility where you are?

      • Annabel Smyth

        I can sometimes get meat directly from my brother, who is a farmer, and sometimes shares out a lamb or pig among us.

  • There is a very good (inexpensive) restaurant in Cahors, “Au Fil des Douceurs”, which used to be on a boat, but is now next to the lovely Valentre Bridge.They often have a dish on the menu which is unusual and my favourite is braised pork cheeks, and a welcome change from the ubiquitous duck. The trouble now is, that I tend to eat it if it’s on the menu and never try anything else.

    • I don’t remember ever cooking with pork cheeks. I’ll ask my butcher about them!

      • paizley

        The flavour will be more like pork and you’ll have to cook them as long as beef cheeks. Quite tasty but use different seasoning more suited to pork.

  • This sounds pretty great, I look forward to trying once it’s a bit cooler here.

    I made summer squash gratin with your bechamel recipe (from cauliflower gratin recipe) and it turned out fantastic. A gratin is a fantastic way to use up late summer produce that we inevitably buy too much of at the greenmarket every week.

  • RichardMorris

    Waitrose in Lichfield (UK) always have beef (and pork) cheek on their meat counter – part of their ‘forgotten cuts’ range. I use a slow cooker, sometimes cooking oxtail in the same pot which makes for a superb gravy.

  • Hi Clotilde, just wanted to let you know there’s a new organic butcher named Dandelion in the marché couvert in the Batignolles (rue Brochant at rue Lemercier). Haven’t bought anything yet, but it looks nice!

  • Jo Dohrman

    Yum. I had fresh prune plums so I used those in place of prunes but other than than, stuck to the recipe. Very very yummy – I have added this to our family folder of recipes.

  • paizley

    Varied the seasonings, no prunes, no ginger, used fresh chopped tomatoes, garlic. Didn’t use any stock since I figured just by cooking the cheeks in water, I’d end up with a flavorful liquid (and I did!). I left all the gristly bits on and that definitely provided collagen. My kitchen is tiny so didn’t have room for my electric PC since I had other projects going on. Off and on simmering on my stove for over 24 hours finally rendered tender cheek meat. I think I’ll eat half as is and use the other half for something else. The flavor is so rich! I love using “odd” cuts of meat, offal, etc. Onions and beef cheeks go hand and hand. So delicious. Thank you for sharing!

    • Thanks so much for reporting back on this, Paizley!

    • paizley

      Tacos, burritos, shepherd’s pie, quesadillas. That’s what to do with leftovers!!!

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