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Mar 6, 2009 10:17 AM

Cooking beef cheeks (split from Ontario board)

For cooking purposes, think of cheeks as similar to a shank. They need to be cooked very gently for several hours, and have a melting, gelatinous quality when done well. Some kosher butchers keep cheeks in stock. I've seen them on self serve display at Toronto Kosher. I'd imagine they would be wonderful in chulent.

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  1. I've cooked beef cheeks in a stew/braise and, as embee notes, they're very gelatinous. The texture, however, is much softer than a shank, somewhat closer to the texture of tongue. Cooked in chunks in a stew, they might not be to everyone's taste because of their gelatinousness. Used in smaller quantities, in ravioli for instance, they'd likely be more appealing to the texture-phobic.

    18 Replies
    1. re: Tatai

      Batali likes to use them for ravioli. Here's a very basic NYT recipe to play with:

      1. re: Kagemusha

        Is this cut ever brined and slow smoked? Seems like a good candidate, whether pork, veal or steer.

        1. re: jayt90

          Smoked tongue is great, but I think it's probably dry cured before being smoked. I have a feeling the texture of beef cheeks would be too weird when slow smoked.

          One might want to brine/pickle beef cheeks and simmer them in water; I sometimes buy raw "pickled" tongue at kosher butcher shops and cook it up by simmering in water. Delicious!

          1. re: Tatai

            Tongue is braised/poached before being smoked. To remove the outer layer. Brine after if you're going to pickle it. Looking for this link I came across the other day...for smoked tongue. Can't find it right now. Looks awesome though.

            Where do you get the pickled tongue?

            1. re: grandgourmand

              Any kosher butcher has it. Nortown (not kosher) sells pickled tongue either raw or cooked.

              The tongue sold at kosher butchers is totally raw and "pickled" in a brine with pickling spices; it's not poached prior to brining. I prefer calves tongue to beef.

              1. re: grandgourmand

                any idea on how long a tongue should be smoked for after the boiling/peeling process?

                i did 2 hours for a 3+lb tongue and while it's got a beautiful pink smoke ring it doesn't taste much of smoke at all. i wonder if the boiling for the skin peeling tightened up the meat a bit so it doesn't accept the smoke as much. i was also working with hickory so it certainly wasn't a low flavour smoke.

                1. re: pinstripeprincess

                  Here's the link I was referring to.

                  Sounds like your process was good. Although this recipe doesn't mention it, I usually put stuff I'm going to smoke uncovered in the fridge over night. The exterior gets "claggy" and that helps smoke cling. It's a recommended step for smoking sausage or bacon, for example.

                  the only other thinkg I can think of is that because it's already cooked, the ability to add actual smoke flavour is limited. in my lengthy research on smoking pork butt, the general view is that raw meat can take on a lot of smoke, but once the internal temp has exceeded 145 degrees, it doesn't take on smoke as much . In that regard, your remark that the meat tightened up could be right on the mark.

                  Did it taste good?

                  1. re: grandgourmand

                    i guess i'll have to take a thermometer to the meat the next time i do this. i'm not sure what temperature was reached when i boiled it to get the skin off (i'm assuming that keeping the skin on and smoking it whole wouldn't be preferable because much of the smoke will just get caught in the skin which i do not intend to eat).

                    it does taste different from my straight boiled and brined tongues but it isn't distinctly smokey by a long shot. still tastes good... got some really good thin cuts this time around for a sandwich and it was meltingly tender.

                    1. re: pinstripeprincess

                      I can't help out very much on this. While I used to love tongue sandwiches from the deli as a child, I stopped enjoying tongue somewhere along the way. I never really got into making it very often.

                      A few suggestions:

                      Can you peel it with a sharp knife before you smoke it?

                      Whenever you are going to smoke a chunk of meat, it's a good idea to dry it first. You can do it on a rack in the fridge or even hang it in front of a small fan. It's ready when it feels dry to the touch and is covered with a whitish haze.

                      You could also try hot smoking it - i.e., smoking and cooking it at the same time.

                      1. re: embee

                        thanks for the suggestions!

                        do you feel that curing the meat before smoking it might have a better effect as well? in terms of tenderness i think it's more than perfectly fine but would curing assist with smoke absorption at all. logic tells me not likely but i'm willing to try.

                        i could peel it with a sharp knife but am very partial to the nice smoothness from the boil and peel. i should try it though and likely will to do the hot smoke you mention.

                        i'll also try the drying. i did boil the thing, cooled it a touch to peel and then let it sit out for a while so it did dry a bit but not a lot while i did some other cooking and tried to decide if i wanted to smell of smoke.

                        1. re: pinstripeprincess

                          Curing won't be better or worse - just different. Think Texas BBQ brisket vs pastrami/smoked meat. Cure it only if you want to get the taste of cured meat.

                          For hot smoke, given your goal, I'm thinking a continuous heavy smoke while you are steaming (instead of boiling) it. If you just put a little wood under a water pan on the stove, you'll only get a very light surface smoke.

                          My drying comment involved a misunderstanding. The white haze develops on cured protein. You won't see that on uncured meat.

                          Another possibility is to smoke it raw and then roast it in a tightly covered pan instead of steaming or boiling. I've never done this with a tongue, but it works beautifully with brisket.

                          1. re: embee

                            Nonetheless, drying is suggested for even non-cured meat. If you're smoking fresh sausages (i.e. hot smoking to cook through more than just smoke to impart flavour), you're recommended to dry them over night. The surface gets "tacky"...apparently smoke clings to the surface better.

                            It can't hurt to cure, i don't think. I make bacon, which involves curing, then smoke to finish. It's basically raw, though. So picks up temperature as it cooks.

                            1. re: grandgourmand

                              I agree about drying. My comment about the whitish haze (the tacky stuff - it's called "pellicle") doesn't apply to uncured meat.

                              It's not that it "hurts" (or doesn't) to cure - it's that cured meat tastes different. A light salting a few hours before cooking will "cure" a trout, but not a thick hunk of meat.

            2. re: jayt90

              Unless you've got teeth like a mako shark, I'd say no, jayt90. It's a different consistency than, say, brisket, which does well slow-smoked as you probably know. The gelatinous quality of beef cheeks might make for a very different BBQ/smoked cut. Beef cheeks seem to respond only to a looong slow braise.

              1. re: jayt90

                I know this is an ancient thread, but I slow-roast beef cheeks all the time. Any sort of marinade works, and they cook at 200F for anywhere from 4 to 6 hours to an internal temperature of 180F plus. The texture is out of this world, soft and gooey! You can do it over wood or in the over, bbq flavors or savory, whatever. On Monday I'm planning to do another 10 pounds. Mind you, these are denuded, whole muscle cheeks - like individual pot roasts - about 8 ounces each.

              2. re: Kagemusha

                The first time I encountered -- and ate -- beef cheeks was at Mario Batali's restaurant, Babbo, in New York a few years ago. We had the beef cheek ravioli, which were out of this world!

                1. re: Tatai

                  re: the OP, the tongue and cheek dish actually looks pretty neat. here's a link. Lotsa work, though.


                  1. re: grandgourmand

                    Actually the carolcookskeller blog is what originally got me interested in the Keller book! I figure I can use the blog like coles notes if I can't figure something out. Incidentally her picture of the finished beef cheeks is pretty much exactly how mine looked.
                    So, I followed Keller's recipe fairly closely, marinating the cheeks in wine (alcohol burned off) + aromatics for 22 hours, then braising the meat at 300F in veal stock + marinade for 3.75 hours. The result was meat so tender you could eat it with a spoon. Possibly the tenderest meat I've ever had. I reckon this was because of the extremely fine network of marbling throughout the meat and of course the long marinating and braising. The texture does end up suffering slightly as the marbling leaves the meat with a fine, more-or-less evenly distributed concentration of fat. It's quite nice, but might not be everyone's cup of tea. I liked it. My roommates loved it.
                    I like the idea of making ravioli with this, as a few of you mentioned. That's what I'll do with the leftovers.

            3. My brother lives in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. He uses beef cheeks to make barbacoa. He steams/braises the beef cheeks with seasonings to make a super rich taco filling. The barbacoa is served with soft corn or flour tortillias, pico de gallo, chopped white onion and cilantro, lime wedges, picante salsa.

              1 Reply
              1. re: powillie

                See my recipie in the mains secyion it is effectively a 24hr thing if you all ow to set etc and tke your time but can be done in 6-8 hrs as well they are spectacular and very available in Australia (maybe you need to move????)