Slow Cooked Beef Cheeks
The sticky and gelatinous nature of slow-cooked beef cheeks makes the perfect filling for a hearty, crispy-lidded pie to warm the winter cockles.
If melt in your mouth meat is what you are aiming for, then the beef cheeks should be cooked the day before and allowed to cool before filling the pie as hot pie fillings and cold pastry don’t provide the best result. The beef cheeks can be pre-cooked in a slow cooker for four to six hours or in a lidded casserole pot in a slow oven for three hours.
The quantity below easily serves 6 people, if cooking for less, halve the ingredients to make a smaller pie.
3 or 4 beef cheeks, approximately 300g each. Check with your butcher.
4 tbsp vegetable oil
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 leek, the white part only, rinsed and chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 large beetroot, peeled and roughly chopped
4 tbsp plain flour
2 cups red wine
2 tbsp tomato paste
500 ml beef stock
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 bay leaves and thyme sprigs
salt and pepper
Remove the prepared beef cheeks from the fridge about an hour before cooking to bring them to room temperature. Dry with paper towels to remove any moisture and season with salt and pepper.
If using the oven, preheat to 140C.
Heat half of the oil in a large, lidded oven and stove-top proof casserole dish over high heat. Cook the beef cheeks, browning on each side for about five minutes. Remove the beef to a spare dish.
In the same pot, add the carrot, onion, leek and celery and cook for ten minutes. Add the flour, mix well and cook until the flour is slightly browned. Add the wine and bring to the boil and cook until the liquid has reduced by half the amount, this will take about five minutes. Add the tomato paste, stock, garlic, herbs and beetroot and mix well. Return the beef cheeks to the pot. Check for seasoning, adding salt and pepper if necessary.
If using a slow cooker, follow the above method, and add all the contents of the casserole dish to the slow cooker pot. Set to cook slowly for four to six hours, checking the meat for tenderness, when tested with a fork the meat should break away easily.
If using the oven method, place the beef filled casserole pot with the lid fitted, into the oven and cook for three hours. Check periodically for liquid evaporation, and adding stock or water if necessary. Also check for tenderness by testing with a fork.
When the meat is cooked strain the liquid sauce from the solids by tipping the meat and vegetables into a strainer or colander over a saucepan to catch the juices.
If the sauce requires thickening, heat it in the saucepan over a medium heat until bubbling and add two to three tablespoons of plain flour mixed with a little water to form a thin paste and mix into the hot sauce. Add more if needed.
Place the strained meat and vegetables into a large clean bowl and pour over the thickened juices and mix together. Leave the pie filling to cool overnight in the fridge ready to assemble the following day.
Sour cream pastry
200g cold unsalted butter, chopped into small pieces
½ cup of sour cream
250g plain flour
one beaten egg mixed with a tablespoon of water for eggwash glaze
Place the butter and flour into the bowl of a food processor or pulse until the mixture looks like lumpy breadcrumbs. Add the sour cream and pulse again until the dough just comes together and forms a ball. The secret of this pastry is to not work it too much. Remove the dough from the mixing bowl and form into a ball, then wrap in cling wrap and place in the fridge for about half an hour to rest. You should have small pieces of butter still semi-solid in the dough. This will create the flaky texture of the pastry.
Preheat the oven to 200C.
When the pastry is rested remove from the fridge and cut into two pieces, one a little larger than the other. The dough will be hard, so using a rolling pin gradually roll the larger piece of dough out to about a five millimetre thickness on a floured benchtop. This does take a bit of work to do. Line the greased pie dish with the dough to form the base of the pie. The pastry should come up and over the sides of the pie dish and overhang a little by about two centimetres. Roll the remaining piece of dough to make the top of the pie in the same way, measuring the top of the pie dish to fit. Place this piece of dough onto a flat oven tray and chill both the dough in the pie dish and the dough on the oven tray in the fridge for about twenty minutes.
Remove both the pastry top and bottom from the fridge and the prepared beef cheeks.
Remove the bay leaves and thyme sprigs from the beef mixture. Spoon the beef mixture into the pie dish, until the mixture almost reaches the top of the pie dish, mounding the centre slightly.
With a pastry brush paint the beaten egg wash around the rim of the pastry. Place the top piece of rolled pastry over the pie mixture pressing down on the rim to stick both the pastry top and bottom together. Using a small, sharp knife go around the sides of the pie and trim the pastry to the outside edges of the pie dish. Pastry has considerable shrinkage, so do not trim any closer than the outside edge of the pie plate. Cut two or three slits in the top of the pastry lid to allow steam to escape and brush with the eggwash.
Bake the pie for approximately twenty minutes in a hot oven or until golden.
Photos by Steve Shanahan of Red Box Photography