Monday, 29 September 2014

Ox cheek casserole

Winter is setting in – slowly – which is just about the same way this delicious casserole cooks. Talk to your local, friendly butcher and s/he will get a couple of ox cheeks for you. I pay just under €18 per kilo (this year; last year they were cheap as chips). You’ll need about half a cheek per person, so about 300g each. This recipe feeds about 6 people.

A good knob of butter
3 ox cheeks, trimmed of gristle and chopped into chunks
2 tablespoons of plain flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
one packet of lardons
a stock cube or two
1 net of small onions, whole but skinned
3 carrots, chopped into chunky chunks
3 bay leaves
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
one small tin of tomato puree
1 bottle of good red wine

mashed potatoes

Yummy, melty ox cheek casserole
Preheat your oven to 150°C. In a heavy casserole dish (one that has a lid that fits), melt the butter. Dip the meat in the seasoned flour, knock off the excess and then brown it in the melted butter. Depending on the size of your pot, you may need to do this in batches. If you do need to do it in batches, keep the browned meat in a bowl next to you.

A whole, raw ox cheek. This one was particularly large.
Once you have all the meat browned, cook the lardons, onions and carrots for a few minutes. Stir in the puree. Return the meat to the casserole and give it a good stir to get it all well combined. Once it’s all happily mixed, pour in the red wine and sprinkle over the stock cube(s) and put the bay leaves on top. Bring all of this to a murmur of a simmer, cover with the lid and pop it in the oven and cook this for about five (5!) hours. You should take it out a couple of times and stir it during this time. The casserole is cooked when the meat falls apart when gently prodded with a table knife.
I serve this with plain potato mash – no celeriac or parsnips – just pure and I make the mash with masses of (Irish) butter. I bought myself a potato ricer a few months ago, and I love the mash it makes. I still love my traditional ‘lumpy’ mash, this just isn’t the time nor place for it.

And of course I serve this with a glass of tannin-rich red wine.

This casserole is very good the next day, and it freezes well too.

Update: I read a Nigel Slater recipe where he used star anise and prunes in a very similar recipe, which I then duly tried. The star anise works a treat! Try it! For the prunes, and probably in future with the vegetables that I add to this casserole, I would try adding them about 2-3 hours into the cooking, as the prunes and the onions tend to disappear into the (delicious) sauce, whereas I'd rather be able to identify them on my plate.

Update part 2: My lovely, friendly, local butcher regularly stocks pork cheeks, which Nigel Slater also has a delicious-sounding recipe for, and I'm going to try soon. Keep tuned!

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