Beef cheeks, known as joues de boeuf in French, have made a resurgence in Michelin Star Restaurants and on famous American cooking programs.
These collagen and gelatin-enriched cuts are described as having a deep, rich flavor similar to that of roast beef, but with a unique flavor that is unmatched by any other cut (even other novel cuts like tongue).
Beef cheek taste is enriched by the sinewy connective tissue, which enables the braising liquids to be absorbed into the tissue as it cooks. This results in a full, delicious flavor that is growing increasingly popular.
What exactly are Beef Cheeks?
Beef cheek meat (similar to beef knuckle) is considered to be a specialty cut of beef since there are only two of them located on each animal. Considered offal (byproducts of beef) by some meatpackers, beef cheeks should technically not be classified as such, since they are not internal organs or byproducts.
They come from the bovine facial area that is located near the muscle that the animal uses to chew. Their location on the animals is important, as the action of continual chewing results in a dense muscle that, when cooked properly, results in a tender cut of beef.
Beef cheeks are presented to the butcher encased in a white, sinewy mixture of collagen, gelatin, and fat. Butchers normally trim them to make them more presentable to consumers.
If the cheeks have not been trimmed, it is better to ask the butcher to do it rather than attempting it at home, since it involves a labor-intensive, rather detailed focus on removing the sinew.
Is beef cheek tender?
After slow cooking for a long period of time, beef cheeks are particularly noted for their soft mouthfeel and unique texture that is rippled with fine lines of fat that keep the meat moist and flavorful.
The cooking breaks down the fibers of the sinew, and if cooked long enough, results in a cut that resembles pulled pork in consistency and appearance.
This cut of meat is particularly well-suited for an electric slow cooker, as the slow cooking breaks down its fiber and creates a succulently tender piece of meat. The slow cooker method is ideal for cooking meat for barbecue sauce or for barbacoa.
Most cuts of beef have moist, tender areas and some dryer areas. Because of their layers of connective tissue and fat, beef cheeks after cooking tend to be tender through and through.
Do beef cheeks taste like brisket?
Of course, an exact description of their flavor depends on several additional factors, such as the type of feed or grass the animal was fed during its life.
The method of cooking used to cook them can also influence the flavor, as beef cheeks that are smoked will have a different flavor from those that are oven roasted or boiled.
The flavor of beef cheeks is also indicative of the types of herbs, spices and sauces that are used to prepare them as well.
TruBeef, a Carbon-neutral, Organic meat purveyor, attributes the comparison between beef cheeks and brisket as one that is focused on appearance rather than taste.
n describing their own grass-fed and grass-finished beef cheeks, they noted the pinkish color of beef cheeks that are cut similarly to a brisket cut, but claim that that is where the resemblance ends, as they classify beef cheeks as their own, unique cut of beef.
Are beef cheeks tough?
Before cooking, beef cheeks are considered to be an extremely tough cut of meat because of their muscular structure (similar to brisket). This is due to their ample supply of connective tissue, and because the cut is muscular and thick.
However, when prepared over low heat for a long period of time, the tissues are broken down and, as previously noted, they are moist and tender for serving.
Are beef cheeks readily available in most grocery stores?
Despite their recent rise in popularity, beef cheeks can be difficult to locate, even in the best grocery stores. This is attributed to the fact that there are so few per animal produced, so shortages prevail.
It can be difficult to find them even in specialty butcher shops or online. One’s best bet in procuring them is to ask a butcher to order some specifically from a retailer like Porter Road or Crowd Cow – or obtain them as part of a whole cow purchase.
What cooking methods are the best way to cook beef cheeks?
In addition to the aforementioned methods of slow-cooking beef cheeks, the Steak School, a culinary institute in Australia, has a specific way of cooking beef cheeks that entails the addition of herbs and spices to create a delectable, highly-acclaimed dish.
Step 1 – Remove Liquids
The first step involves the removal of any residual liquid with a paper towel before seasoning the meat with ample portions of salt and pepper. The salt will help draw the liquids to the surface of the meat and will help with the tenderization process. The pepper will add a little heat.
Step 2 – Prep Dish
A heavy pot or ovenproof casserole dish should be used to sear the meat in a small amount of olive oil. The beef cheeks should be cooked until they reach a light brown color and caramelize.
Step 3 – Cover in Olive Oil
The beef cheeks should be removed from the pan and placed to one side while a small additional amount of olive oil should be added back into the pan. Chopped onion, garlic, celery, and carrot should be added to the oil.
Step 4 – Add Vegetables
When the vegetables soften, tomato paste or tomato puree should be added and cooked over low heat until the tomato flavor blends thoroughly with the flavors of the vegetables. Otherwise, the tomato flavor will dominate the dish.
Step 5 – Add Meat
During this step, the beef cheeks should be added back into the pot with the vegetables. Red wine should be used to deglaze the pan before reducing the heat to a low simmer.
Step 6 – Add Beef Stock
Beef stock should be poured into cover the beef cut. The liquid should be brought to a simmer once more and fresh thyme or rosemary sprigs should be added along with some bay leaves.
Step 7 – Cover Pan
The pan or casserole should be covered tightly as the beef cheeks cook on low heat until tender for from 3-4 hours. The pot should be left undisturbed during the cooking process. Removal of the lid can result in lost liquid and moisture in the meat.
Step 8 – Check Tenderness
When the beef cheeks are tender enough to slice with a spoon, they have completed their cooking. Be sure to confirm the right temperature with a good thermometer.
To make a sauce that works well with beef cheeks, remove the herbs, the bay leaves and chunks of vegetables from the pan. Strain the liquid from the beef cheeks into a smaller sized saucepan and cook on a medium-low heat.
Add a small amount of flour and lower the temperature. The sauce should simmer until it reduces and thickens.
The dish should be served by glazing the beef with the sauce before being placed on a plate.