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Beef cheeks = cabeza. Right???

I have a couple of packages of beef cheeks in the freezer thinking that someday I'd do a poor man's (or woman's) versioin of Batali's beef cheek ravioli (no squab liver or black truffles). But then yesterday we stopped at our fave burrito joint and my husband ordered cabeza. I was glancing at their menu taped on the wall to see if they serve menudo (they don't - too small a place) when I saw cabeza and in parentheses "beef cheek." One of those aha moments. Now I grant you there's more on a cow's head than just the cheeks but that would be the meatiest part, right?

Part Two: Now I want to slow cook the cheeks and does anyone have any special flavorings? With pork, I usually go with jalapenos (also have a poblano hanging around), garlic, onion, cumin, a dash of tequila. I also have cilantro in the fridge but should I just use it raw rather than cooked later on? Thanks all.

Edit: I considered rubbing the meat well with chile powder prior to browning and then slow cooking. Agree?

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  1. Yup, the cheeks give you a lot of the meat from the head. But if I prepare a cabeza it will have everything included. There are a LOT of nooks and crannies filled with good stuff in a cabeza.

    5 Replies
    1. re: c oliver

      Probably mentioned the party in remote highland Chiapas: the friendly butcher invited a whole bunch of us (people working for Green Mountain and for the local coffee co-op) for a cabeza - just that, a whole head done in the big clay domed wood oven and served with lots of beer and tequila. People ate the easy pickin's and then had trouble getting all the meat out, so I had to get a knife and "carve" the sucker.

      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

        Here's the toolkit for delicious and successful cabeza carne extraction:

        http://www.hobbytoolsexpress.com/cata...

      2. re: Sam Fujisaka

        Does cabeza ever include the eyes? I know they eat those some places, but I have no idea how common it is or where it happens.

        1. re: danieljdwyer

          In my post that got deleted,I described having a full oven roasted head in remote Chiapas. It included the eyes. When I took over carving, one eye had already been removed, sliced up, and served. I did up the other one. Of the 15 or so people eating and drinking that night, there wasn't a single "eeww" to be heard.

          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

            I found whole pig head in a Latino market recently and wish you were around to help me cook and serve it. But I'm sure other CHs are going to step up once I'm ready to cook one.

      3. Thank you for asking this! My wife just asked me the other day if we every figured out this question -- I had had beef cheeks in the Loire Valley years ago, but I could never figure out which "cheek" it meant. I assumed it was from the head, but then I considered that it could be from the other end.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Reignking

          That is so funny --- and completely logical.

          They're in the slowcooker now. I rubbed them with chili powder, cumin, s&p and browned in oil. Then put in the cooker with jalapenos, poblano, garlic, onion, red pepper and "dead" tomato (didn't want to throw out) and 1/4c tequila. Looking forward to dinner tonight even more than usual.

        2. ALRIGHT, PEOPLE, LISTEN UP!!!!!

          This is one of the best meats I've ever put in my mouth. We've been nibbling at it for a couple of hours. Some here object to the word "unctious" when describing food. This is unctious. It tastes like COW in all caps. Nothing wimpy about it. If your preferences are for filet mignon or veal, don't come to this party. It's not strong or gamey (how could it be?). It tastes like COW. It's got a lot of fat that is all gelatinous after about 8 or 10 hours in the slowcooker. I guess we're going to have to have dinner soon but we laughed that we could eat the whole damn thing by just nibbling at it. BTW, we got it at WalMart for $2.07/#. I have another in the freezer and will be stock piling more. Oh yeah.

          33 Replies
          1. re: Scargod

            Does the whole head include the eyeballs?
            I'm usually not squeamish about any foods, but the eyeball is on my short list of things that kind of gross me out - I also can't see myself chowing down on penis anytime soon, I don't dig on land invertebrates, and I have entirely unrelated issues with eating brain.

            1. re: danieljdwyer

              We had tête de veau in France - this was at a private house in the country, and got to see the cook buy the whole head off a mobile butcher who pulled his truck/meat counter into the courtyard. The eyes were NOT in it, and it had been skinned, but Mrs. O was still disappointed when the whole head was not presented at the table, à la mode ancienne, but as a pile of meat on a platter. Her disappointment lasted just long enough for her fork to reach her mouth.

              I *WILL* get cabeza next time we hit a taco truck. I'm just so used to sticking with lengua I keep forgetting about the rest of the head!

              1. re: Will Owen

                Most places Head is sold with everything removed except connective tissue and all that thin clingy meat.
                The Cabeza Tacos at my favorite truck are great. They are pretty wet though with a really good beefy flavor. I think that there may be a clove or two in there seasoning, slightly reminiscent of Birra.

              1. re: liveloveat34

                On, in the "fresh" meat area. They're in cryovac'd packages and have other more "esoteric" meat products. After this success, I'm going to be buying out the inventory tomorrow in Reno :)
                PS: I was determined to never waste my time posting on this thread since pertinent info keeps getting deleted but I can't be THAT unhelpful.

                1. re: c oliver

                  Thanks for the post, and for taking the chance.

                  I'll call my Walmart meat dept and see what they have. Previously it has been "special order" from latino mkts.

                  1. re: FoodFuser

                    We had the last of this package today. In describing it, it's like the beef version of pork belly. I'm looking forward to fooling around with this. It is so incredibly rich and yummy.

                    1. re: c oliver

                      The masseter muscle (jaw) is the strongest in most mammals. Makes for them good eats.

                2. re: liveloveat34

                  Just be advised that the package contains almost 50% fat. The last time I bought it at Walmart the fat was hidden from view in the package and it wasn't until I opened it did I see how much waste there was. I was going to smoke the cheeks but there wasn't much cheek to work with. I ended up braising the cheeks. Very soft gelatinous texture but tasty.

                  1. re: scubadoo97

                    At least my first pack wasn't like that at all --- and I hope future ones won't be. As you say, this is certainly about as far as you can get from a lean cut of meat but we got five or six meals off it. We used it all in tortillas with other things and, because of its richness, a little went a very long way. And at $2/# that was one heckuva deal.

                    1. re: c oliver

                      I had posted about these back in the beginning of the year and posted a picture. Here is a link to my post with a photo of my cleaned Rumba brand cheeks from Walmart

                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5879...

                      1. re: scubadoo97

                        I now remember posting on that thread but had forgotten.. Holy cow (!!!), that was awful. Our first package was nothing like that. Now I'm going to fret til I open the next one. I was all ready to buy out their supply. Thanks for reminding me. And rereading your original post, you're right about the gelatinous-ity. Short ribs x 10. I compared them to pork belly.

                    2. re: scubadoo97

                      Year plus old followup. We found beef cheeks at a Latino market the other day and fixed them as before. They didn't have nearly as much fat as the WM ones. They were trimmed but still had enough. $2.50/# and we'll get multiple meals off that <2#.

                      1. re: c oliver

                        A good chunk of cabeza
                        invites a cerveza
                        washed downed with humility
                        that cheek ain't so chique.

                        But then, who hell began
                        this cryo-vacced scam
                        when we just want to braise it and praise it.

                        Dos Equis,
                        Two cervesas
                        is the place where we place us
                        when we're cuttin' and cookiin'
                        that piece of beef cheek.

                          1. re: c oliver

                            c oliver next time you are in Brazil you might search out a nice marbled piece of cupim from an acogue. Some is imported to the East Coast (by ki delicia I believe the company which does pre-packaged feijoada packs), but its all pre-marinated for churrasco. Its a lot more flexible than Brazilian cooking would lead you to think (primarily used as a fatty, slow cooking, beefy sit in for beef round but its braises better than that). Also for braising buy musculo (chambarete from a spanish speaking butcher I believe) if you haven't tried that before which is generally what I buy ground for carne moida ensopada (doesn't dry out, bit more flavor than acem).

                            1. re: itaunas

                              Thank you, thank you, thank you! Next time we go, I'm consulting you. The cuts are, of course, different plus my dictionary is limited (geared towards a tourist) so there are many words I can't find. I recently bought what I thought was a pork shoulder roast and upon cooking, it turned out to be ham. Still great and we got a big laugh out of it.

                              1. re: c oliver

                                Its not just Brazil where pernil means fresh ham, I believe its also the case in other latino cultures perhaps more so in south america. Pork picnic is so much cheaper and widely available in cryovac in the US that its been more widely adopted as a substitue than its actually used in some original cusines. But if you ask for pernil in Brazil you _should_ get a fresh ham (and with respect to inclusion in prepared meats the cuts used are legislated and can affect labeling -- hence the difference between presunto and apresuntado). In any case there are certain cuts of paleta suina which are very similar or identical to our picnic (paleta com osso is one way to order it), but a lot of times if you just order paleta what you get may vary (up to and including the whole shoulder).

                      2. re: c oliver

                        I just found cheek at my local WalMart....man am I excited to try this.

                        1. re: joonjoon

                          Let us know how fatty it is. One of the ones I bought had a lot of hidden fat. The ones I got at the Latino market had been better trimmed. But any beef cheek in a storm, right? And that WM meat case had some other interesting things also,didn't it?

                          1. re: c oliver

                            Yes I noted that the Rumba brand did try to hide the fat as it was not so visible from the packaging. They were very fatty. Once trimmed they were okay but the meat has a significant amount of intra-muscular fat

                            1. re: scubadoo97

                              To me, because it is SO rich, a little goes a long, long way. Which makes it even more frugal. We used a fraction of the amount we would use of some lean(er) meat/poultry/fish.

                            2. re: c oliver

                              Bought Rumba from Walmart. Probably at least 2/3 fat. Going to try some local Mexmarts. The cheeks turned out good, soooooo much better than pot roast. Now I want to get creative.

                              1. re: amokscience

                                I just bought some cheeks from Walmart, i think I might have found a trick to getting the less fatty pieces of cheek. Basically what I did is feel around the package - the ones with more fat will have significant areas that are hard like cold beef fat. Look for the ones that are soft and mushy all over.

                                1. re: joonjoon

                                  Good tip.

                                  And, yes, amok, they're 'SO good, aren't they?

                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    Ok...finally got around to making some beef cheek this weekend. The results? This may be the single best piece of braising meat on the entire cow. Holy lord was it succulent! I shredded it up and made tacos out of it. So delicious, and a steal at under 3$/lb!

                                    And yes, it's RIDICULOUSLY fatty. Got about a cup of fat out of the braise even after trimming the big hunks of fat.

                                    1. re: joonjoon

                                      They are incredibly good! I need to pick up some more. The freezer is bare of those. Glad you liked them.

                                      1. re: c oliver

                                        I agree -- I buy and make beef and pork cheeks on a regular basis -- the flavor is so much better than any other cut, and the broth is soo velvety. Next time someone asks me what mouthfeel is, I'm gonna hand them a spoonful of broth from braising cheeks.

                                        Here's a weird one, though -- both beef and pork cheeks are hard to find in the summer time. I realize that slow-braising is usually a wintertime thing...but they butcher cattle and pigs all year long....where do the cheeks go? (and no, not the freezer here in Europe...if they've been frozen they have to be labeled as such)

                                        1. re: sunshine842

                                          I'm lucky since I discovered a Latino market that butchers their own cows and pigs so I can buy "snout to tail" all the time. I'm also lucky to live in the mountains where a typical high temp in summer is 75F.

                              2. re: c oliver

                                I got Aberdeen Angus ox cheeks from a supermarket the other day - they were great braised in guiness, and not terribly fatty at all. And huge - one cheek weighed over a pound!

                            3. re: c oliver

                              you got the whole head at Walmart? or they had cabeza pre-shredded in a package? either way i'm a little <b>shocked</b>

                              1. re: thimes

                                None of the above :) It's the meat of the cheeks in whole pieces. At my Latino market I can buy the cheeks or the whole head.

                            4. The taco cart where I'm at calls their beef cheek preparation simply "barbacoa", which I imagine is just a shortening of "barbacoa de cabeza". I don't know why they dropped the cabeza part from the name. If you are chowish enough to have sought out the taco cart, you aren't going to be scared off by knowing where the meat came from.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: kmcarr

                                Also I am used to it being called barbacoa. That is my favorite taco from most carts, hard to go wrong, though sometimes needs a bit of salt and a twist of lime along with the other garnishes. Barbacoa is nortenyo so maybe those who call it cabeza are from further South?

                                1. re: kmcarr

                                  Barbacoa is a method of preparation. Many different kinds of meats can be used: lamb, beef shank, goat.

                                2. Cheek is one component of barbacoa de cabeza. Usually barbacoa consists of a combination of tongue (lengua), and cheek (cachete) along with any extraneous tidbits (ojos, etc.) In a latin market, you should be able to ask for cachete to get straight beef cheeks.

                                  1. Dang it all. El cachete is out of the bag now.

                                    I've been buying beef cheeks since I found them at Wally World. It's the beefiest cut on the cow aside from el rabo. There is a LOT of fat to trim off and it takes a lot of tedious prep work to make it good to eat. It's really far too much trouble. . . Those grapes are SOUR I tell you! You won't like it!

                                    Did I convince anyone?

                                    11 Replies
                                    1. re: BeaN

                                      I guess I'm just a pig. I didn't trim it at all. I rubbed with various things, browned well, put in the slow cooker with jalapenos, poblano, onion, garlic, etc., etc.. On low for 8-10 hours and it was meltingly gooey. Nope, didn't convince me :)

                                      1. re: BeaN

                                        I just braised some cheeks the other day with the same preparation I use for rabo encendido. Unctuous for sure, c oliver. Incredibly rich, gelatinous and flavorful. Three of us LOVED the flavor and texture and the fourth one, who likes boneless, skinless chicken breast and well done filet mignon... well, let's just say it was painfully funny to watch him try to cut around the fat and connective tissue.

                                        1. re: inaplasticcup

                                          You just made me snort! What a mental picture. There was a thread about disliked food words and some listed "unctuous." I think that's the dominant adjective for beef cheeks.

                                          1. re: c oliver

                                            Three cheers for "ucntuous" Four cheers for "gelatinous."

                                            We don't dare go to to five cheers
                                            as will leave palm extended,
                                            and the scene a bit splattery.

                                            First rule of eating cheeks:
                                            Always keep a free finger.

                                            Okay if the others
                                            have become unctuous, or greasy.

                                          2. re: inaplasticcup

                                            I have a cheek in my fridge at the moment. My wife is a BSCB kind of gal. This will be my second attempt at doing a cheek. The first one was done in a pressure cooker. I would like to braise this one to get more surface texture and render out more fat. I assume there will still be a fair amount of gelatinous texture between the meet fibers. I'm thinking of shredding it and cooking some more. I think with the amount of fat and connective tissue it can take it and not dry out. It might work well for tacos with some cabbage and salsa fresca.

                                            1. re: scubadoo97

                                              BSCB. 'Splain, por favor. :)

                                              And other people might have had different experiences, but there is soooo much collagen and connective tissue in cheek, I'm not sure shredding is such a good option.

                                              1. re: inaplasticcup

                                                Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast. And she does like her tenderloin well done. what can you do.

                                                Didn't know if it Was cooked long enough if it the collagen would break down enough to render out.

                                                1. re: scubadoo97

                                                  Well, the connective tissue, even when braised for long periods, is still visible, and for a BSCB (thanks!) lover, the velvety mouthfeel from the collagen that I love so well is not likely to be overlooked, if you know what I mean.

                                              2. re: scubadoo97

                                                It's so darned good just braised into a beef stew type of thing that I don't know why you'd even try to gild the lily.

                                                There's not that much fat in a beef cheek -- lots of collagen, but not much fat....and you have all that gorgeous silky broth/sauce that cooking it off (or worse throwing it away)would be a tragedy.

                                                Save the shredding for the other stuff...treasure the cheeks.

                                                1. re: scubadoo97

                                                  I ended up making tacos with my cheek also. The cheeks are so fatty and gloppy that it really benefits from a little salsa type condiment to add a little contrast.

                                            2. I live in SoCal and all this time, I thought "cabeza" was brains only. The "cabeza" tacos I had in Mexico, and the ones I see served in local Mama y Papa places sure did/do look like nothing more than beef brains. What gives?

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: CapreseStacy

                                                I was also under the impression that cabeza tacos were brains...

                                                1. re: joonjoon

                                                  From Wiki:

                                                  "Tacos de Cabeza or head tacos, in which there is a flat punctured metal plate from which steam emerges to cook the head of the cow. These include: Cabeza, a serving of the muscles of the head; Sesos ("brains"); Lengua ("tongue"); Cachete ("cheeks"); Trompa ("lips"); and, Ojo ("eye"). Tortillas for these tacos are warmed on the same steaming plate for a different consistency. These tacos are typically served in pairs, and also include salsa, onion and cilantro with occasional use of guacamole.[5][6]"